Beyond Coal to Clean Energy

Today, the Sierra Club marked a major milestone in the transition to clean energy as the Fisk and Crawford facilities in Chicago became the 99th and 100th coal-fired plants to announce retirement since January 2010. These iconic Midwest Gen owned plants are two of nine coal-fired plants from Chicago to Pennsylvania that announced plans to retire today, including the Portland plant in Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania. 

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Here in Minnesota, Xcel Energy announced plans to retire Burnsville’s Black Dog coal plant, New Ulm withdrew its proposal to reopen a coal plant, and the University of Minnesota and College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University announced plans to at least temporarily halt coal burning on their campuses. In 2009, Xcel completed the Metro Emissions Reduction Project which converted Minneapolis’s Riverside and St. Paul’s High Bridge coal plants to natural gas plants as part of a long organizing campaign by Sierra Club and our allies, including the community coalition, Clean Energy Now!

The Sierra Club’s goal is to retire one third of America’s polluting coal plants by the year 2020 and replace that power with clean energy like wind and solar. Coal industry executives have called the Beyond Coal campaign “unrelenting and dramatic,” with “hard hitting messages that put local officials in uncomfortable positions.” A powerful grassroots movement whose early roots can be traced back to Minnesota’s metro coal plant clean up has grown dramatically in recent years, made up of dozens of local and national groups and over a million people taking action around the country.

“We are winning as city by city, communities are standing up and saying no to coal,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “This latest milestone underscores the movement occurring across the country, and we will not power our future with the outdated energy sources of the 19th century. Now we must ensure that the transition from coal to clean energy happens in a way that protects workers and communities.”

Pollution from coal-burning power plants contributes to a host of health problems, including respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks, heart disease and cancer. Retirement of these 100 plants is estimated to prevent more than 2,042 premature deaths, 3,299 heart attacks and 33,053 asthma attacks, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

“The Beyond Coal campaign deserves a big congratulations and thank you from everyone who values clean air,” said Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist and mayor of New York City, whose Bloomberg Philanthropies recently donated $50 million to the Beyond Coal effort. “We are clearly witnessing the end of our dependency on coal and the move toward a cleaner energy future.”

In addition to securing retirement dates for more than 100 coal plants nationwide and continuing to keep a watch on their progress to ensure they phase out on schedule, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has prevented 166 new coal plant proposals from being built. Preventing new coal plants and retiring existing coal plants has opened the space for clean energy even during the slow to recover economy. The U.S. solar and wind capacity is now over 50,000 megawatts, enough to power 11 million homes, and nearly 180,000 people are now employed by the solar and wind industries.

Many energy companies have decided not to invest in new coal plants due to economic reasons. A recent report by the Energy Information Agency predicts that coal-fired electricity will continue to decline in coming years.

Since the Beyond Coal campaign began:

  • Proposals for 166 new coal-fired power plants have been abandoned, opening market space for clean energy.
  • The campaign has helped secure retirement dates for 106 existing plants, meaning nearly 13% of current coal generation is now slated for retirement.
  • New mountaintop removal mining permits have slowed to a trickle.
  • 19 colleges and universities have won fights to phase out coal plants on their campuses, thanks in large part to the hard hitting campaigns of Sierra Student Coalition.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people have mobilized in support of strong clean air and water protections
  • Sierra Club and its allies signed an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority to phase out coal plants, representing the biggest clean air agreement in the history of the Southeast.
Here in Minnesota, we are continuing to work with communities to define the path beyond coal to clean energy. Whether it be engaging in tomorrow night’s “Making the Switch” forum with Xcel Energy at the University of Minnesota or collecting public comments on Minnesota Power’s plan to diversify its energy mix from an over-reliance on coal to investment in local clean energy, our volunteers and supporters know that together we can build a clean energy economy.
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