Fossil fuel phase-out

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Not to be confused with Fossil fuel divestment.
Protest at the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington. Ted Nation an activist for several decades beside protest sign
The 1968 Farmington coal mine disaster kills 78 in West Virginia, US
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill discharges 4.9 million barrels

Fossil fuel phase out is the proposed energy transition beyond fossil fuels through multiple means, including transport electrification, fossil fuel divestment, decommissioning of operating fossil fuel-fired power plants and prevention of the construction of new fossil fuel-fired power stations. Its purpose is to reduce air pollution, mining tragedies, and greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change.[1] A move to the many forms of renewable energy or nuclear energy is involved in shifting away from fossil fuels.

Problems of fossil fuels[edit]

Using computer modeling he developed over 20 years, Mark Z. Jacobson has found that carbonaceous fuel soot emissions (which lead to respiratory illness, heart disease, and asthma) have resulted in 1.5 million premature deaths each year, mostly in the developing world where the non-fossil fuels wood and animal dung are used for cooking. Jacobson has also said that soot from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, and burning wood is a "bigger cause of global warming than previously thought, and is the major cause of the rapid melting of the Arctic's sea ice".[2]

In 2011, new evidence has emerged that there are considerable risks associated with traditional energy sources, and that major changes to the mix of energy technologies are needed:

Several mining tragedies globally have underscored the human toll of the coal supply chain. New EPA initiatives targeting air toxics, coal ash, and effluent releases highlight the environmental impacts of coal and the cost of addressing them with control technologies. The use of fracking in natural gas exploration is coming under scrutiny, with evidence of groundwater contamination and greenhouse gas emissions. Concerns are increasing about the vast amounts of water used at coal-fired and nuclear power plants, particularly in regions of the country facing water shortages. Events at the Fukushima nuclear plant have renewed doubts about the ability to operate large numbers of nuclear plants safely over the long term. Further, cost estimates for "next generation" nuclear units continue to climb, and lenders are unwilling to finance these plants without taxpayer guarantees.[3]

Studies about fossil fuel phase-out[edit]

In 2008, James Hanson and eight other scientists published the 38-page journal article "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" which called for phasing out coal power completely by the year 2030.[4]

More recently James Hansen, considered the father of climate change [5] has stated that continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change.[6] The letter, co-authored with other climate change experts declared "If we stay on the current path," he said, "those are the consequences we'll be leaving to our children. The best candidate to avoid that is nuclear power. It's ready now. We need to take advantage of it." and "Continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change."

Also in 2008, Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen published a peer-reviewed scientific study analyzing the effect of a coal phase-out on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.[7] Their baseline mitigation scenario was a phaseout of global coal emissions by 2050. The authors describe the scenario as follows:

The second scenario, labeled Coal Phase-out, is meant to approximate a situation in which developed countries freeze their CO2 emissions from coal by 2012 and a decade later developing countries similarly halt increases in coal emissions. Between 2025 and 2050 it is assumed that both developed and developing countries will linearly phase out emissions of CO2 from coal usage. Thus in Coal Phase-out we have global CO2 emissions from coal increasing 2% per year until 2012, 1% per year growth of coal emissions between 2013 and 2022, flat coal emissions for 2023–2025, and finally a linear decrease to zero CO2 emissions from coal in 2050. These rates refer to emissions to the atmosphere and do not constrain consumption of coal, provided the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Oil and gas emissions are assumed to be the same as in the BAU [business as usual] scenario.

Kharecha and Hansen also consider three other mitigation scenarios, all with the same coal phase-out schedule but each making different assumptions about the size of oil and gas reserves and the speed at which they are depleted. Under the Business as Usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 parts per million (ppm) in the year 2100. Under the four coal phase-out scenarios, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 422-446 ppm between 2045 and 2060 and declines thereafter. The key implications of the study are as follows: a phase-out of coal emissions is the most important remedy for mitigating human-induced global warming; actions should be taken toward limiting or stretching out the use of conventional oil and gas; and strict emissions-based constraints are needed for future use of unconventional fossil fuels such as methane hydrates and tar sands.

In the Greenpeace and EREC's Energy (R)evolution scenario,[8] the world would eliminate all fossil fuel use by 2090.[9][10][11]

In December 2015 Greenpeace and Climate Action Network Europe released a report highlighting the need for an active phase-out of coal-fired generation across Europe. Their analysis derived from a database of 280 coal plants and included emissions data from official EU registries.[12]

A September 2016 report by Oil Change International concludes that the carbon emissions embedded in the coal, oil, and gas in currently working mines and fields, assuming that these run to the end of their working lifetimes, will take the world to just beyond the 2 °C limit contained in the 2015 Paris Agreement and even further from the 1.5 °C goal.[13][14][15] The report observes that "one of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging for more fossil fuels".[15]:5


Coal consumption trends 1980–2012 in the top five coal-consuming countries (US EIA)
Coal-fired power plants provide 45% of consumed electricity in the United States.[16] This is the Castle Gate Plant near Helper, Utah.

Coal is one of the largest sources of energy, supplying 27 percent of the world's primary energy in 2006.[17] Coal also accounts for up to one-third of global carbon emissions.[citation needed] To decrease carbon emissions and thus possibly stop extreme climate change, some have called for coal to be phased out.[18][19] Climatologist James E. Hansen said "We need a moratorium on coal now...with phase-out of existing plants over the next two decades."[20] Hans Joachim Schellnhuber argues that globally coal has to be phased-out until about 2035, if the 2°C target is taken seriously.[21]

Some nations have decreased their coal consumption thus far in the 21st century, the greatest reductions being in the United States (coal consumption reduced by 176 million metric tons per year over the period 2000-2012), Canada (reduced by 21 million tons per year) and Spain (20 million tons per year). Other nations have increased their coal consumption in the same period, led by China (increased 2,263 million metric tons per year in the period 2000-2012), India (increased 367 million tons per year), and South Korea (59 million tons per year). Worldwide, coal consumption increased 60% during the period 2000-2012.[22] As of 2012, 1200 new coal power plants were reportedly being planned worldwide, most of them in China and India.[23] However, coal consumption has peaked in China in 2013 or 2014, depending on the data used and fell in 2015 by 3.6%, even though there was a growth of GDP of 6.9%.[24]

In the 2011-2013 period, the OCED group of Western European countries has increased the use of coal, attributed largely to the low cost of coal and the high price of imported natural gas in Western Europe.[25]

According to Scientific American, the average coal plant emits more than 100 times as much radiation per year than does a comparatively sized nuclear power plant, in the form of fly ash.[26]

Some like the "coal advisory board" of the IEA believe that coal should not be phased out, considering that longer-term global economic growth cannot be achieved without adequate and affordable energy supplies, which will require continuing significant contributions from fossil fuels including coal. In this viewpoint, clean coal technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions compatible with a low-emissions future.[27] Some environmentalists and climatologists support a phase-out and criticise clean coal as not a solution to climate change.[28] Entrepreneurs promote improved regulations and modernised technology.[citation needed]

Switch to natural gas[edit]

Some coal power plants such as the 1200 MW Hearn Generating Station have stopped burning coal by switching the plant to natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 27 gigawatts of capacity from coal-fired generators is to be retired from 175 US coal-fired power plants between 2012 and 2016.[29] Natural gas showed a corresponding jump, increasing by a third over 2011.[30] Coal's share of electricity generation dropped to just over 36%.[30] Due to emergence of shale gas, coal consumption declined from 2009.[31] Natural gas accounted for 81% of new power generation in the US between 2000 and 2010.[32] Coal-fired generation puts out about twice the amount of carbon dioxide - around 2,000 pounds for every megawatt hour generated - than electricity generated by burning natural gas at 1,100 pounds of greenhouse gas per megawatt hour. As the fuel mix in the United States has changed to reduce coal and increase natural gas generation, carbon dioxide emissions have unexpectedly fallen. Those measured in the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest of any recorded for the first quarter of any year since 1992.[33] Natural gas production and distribution leak methane into the atmosphere which may be 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Legislation and initiatives to phase out coal[edit]

Major economies[edit]

The twenty leaders of the world's top industrialized nations, as well as key countries with developing economies, have agreed to phase out their subsidies for fossil fuels, including coal. In a concluding statement from the Group of 20 (G20) Summit—held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 24 and 25, 2009 —the nations' leaders agreed to "phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies." The G20 leaders also called for targeted support for poor people that would be impacted by higher prices for fossil fuels. The leaders noted that "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies "encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources, and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change." The agreement will ultimately phase out nearly $300 billion in global subsidies for fossil fuels. And as noted in a White House fact sheet, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency estimate that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies worldwide would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 10% or more by 2050.[34][35][36]

Despite such pledges, a 2012 report by Oil Change International which analyzed 2011 spending by the world's wealthy nations found five times as much being spent on fossil fuel subsidies than climate aid: $58 billion was spent in fossil fuel subsidies that year, as compared with $11 billion spent by such nations towards climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, with figures for the U.S. at $13 billion in fossil fuel subsidies versus $2.5 billion in climate aid for 2011.[37]

In November 2015, OECD countries announced another tightening of international coal subsidies.[38]


Electricity generation from renewable sources in Australia, 2010

The Australian Greens party have proposed to phase out coal power stations. The NSW Greens proposed an immediate moratorium on coal-fired power stations and want to end all coal mining and coal industry subsidies. The Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party also oppose nuclear power. The Federal Government and Victorian State Government want to modify existing coal-fired power stations into clean coal power stations.[citation needed] The Federal Labor government extended the mandatory renewable energy targets, an initiative to ensure that new sources of electricity are more likely to be from wind power, solar power and other sources of renewable energy in Australia. Australia is one of the largest consumers of coal per capita, and also the largest exporter. The proposals are strongly opposed by industry, unions[39] and the main Opposition Party in Parliament (now forming the party in government after the September 2013 election).


In 2005, Canada annually burned 60 million tons of coal, mainly for electrical power, increasing by 15 percent annually.


Beginning in 2005 Ontario, Canada planned coal phase-out legislation.[40] Ontario annually consumed 15 million tons of coal in large power plants to supplement nuclear power. Nanticoke Generating Station was a major source of air pollution, and Ontario suffered "smog days" during the summer.[citation needed] In 2007, Ontario's Liberal government committed to phasing out all coal generation in the province by 2014. Premier Dalton McGuinty said, "By 2030 there will be about 1,000 more new coal-fired generating stations built on this planet. There is only one place in the world that is phasing out coal-fired generation and we're doing that right here in Ontario."[41] The Ontario Power Authority projects that in 2014, with no coal generation, the largest sources of electrical power in the province will be nuclear (57 percent), hydroelectricity (25 percent), and natural gas (11 percent).[42] The final coal plant in Ontario, Thunder Bay Generating Station, stopped burning coal in April 2014.[43]


There are currently no plans to phase out coal burning power stations in the People's Republic of China on the national level.

China’s exceedingly high energy demand has pushed the demand for relatively cheap coal-fired power. Each week, another 2GW of coal-fired power is put online in China. Coal supplies about 80% of China's energy needs today, and that ratio is expected to continue, even as overall power usage grows rapidly. Serious air quality deterioration has resulted from the massive use of coal and many Chinese cities suffer severe smog events.[citation needed]

As a consequence the region of Beijing has decided to phase out all its coal-fired power generation by the end of 2015.[44]

In 2009 China had 172GW of installed hydro capacity the largest in the world, producing 16% of China's electricity, the Eleventh Five-Year Plan has set a 300GW target for 2020. China built the world's largest power plant of any kind, the Three Gorges Dam.

In addition to the huge investments in coal power, China has 32[45] reactors under construction, the highest number in the world.

Analysis in 2016 shows that China's coal consumption appears to have peaked in 2014.[46][47]

European Union[edit]

In July 2014, CAN Europe, WWF European Policy Office, HEAL, EEB and Climate-Alliance Germany published a report calling for the decommissioning of the thirty most polluting coal-fired power plants in Europe.[48]


3,500-4,000 environmental activists blocking a coal mine to limit climate change (Ende Gelände 2016).

Hard coal mining has long been subsidized in Germany, reaching a peak of €6.7 billion in 1996 and dropping to €2.7 billion in 2005 due to falling output. These subsidies represent a burden on public finances and imply a substantial opportunity cost, diverting funds away from other, more beneficial public investments.[49]

In 2007 Germany announced plans to phase out hard coal-industry subsidies by 2018, a move which is expected to end hard coal mining in Germany.[50][51][52][53][54] This exit is later than the EU-mandated end by 2014.[55] Solar and wind are major sources of energy and renewable energy generation, around 15% as of December 2013,[56] and growing. Coal is still the largest source of power in Germany.

In 2007 German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party agreed to legislation to phase out Germany's hard coal mining sector. That does not mean that they support phasing out coal in general. There were plans to build about 25 new plants in the coming years. Most German coal power plants were built in the 1960s, and have a low energy efficiency. Public sentiment against coal power plants is growing and the construction or planning of some plants has been stopped.[50][51][52][53][54] A number are under construction and still being built. No concrete plan is in place to reduce coal-fired electricity generation. As of October 2015, the remaining coal plants still under planning include: Niederaussem, Profen, and Stade. The coal plants currently under construction include: Mannheim, Hamm D, Datteln, and Willhelmshaven. Between 2012 and 2015, six new plants went online. All of these plants are 600–1800 MWe.[57]

In 2014 Germany's coal consumption dropped for the first time, having risen each year since the low during the 2009 recession.[58]

A 2014 study finds that coal is not making a comeback in Germany, as is sometimes claimed. Rather renewables have more than offset the nuclear facilities that have been shutdown as a result of Germany's nuclear phase-out (Atomausstieg). Hard coal plants now face financial stringency as their operating hours are cut back by the market. But in contrast, lignite-fired generation is in a safe position until the mid-2020s unless government policies change. To phase-out coal, Germany should seek to strength the emissions trading system (EU-ETS), consider a carbon tax, promote energy efficiency, and strengthen the use of natural gas as a bridge fuel.[59]

In 2016 the German government and affected lignite power plant operators Mibrag, RWE, and Vattenfall reached an understanding (Verständigung) on the transfer of lignite power plant units into security standby (Überführung von Braunkohlekraftwerksblöcken in die Sicherheitsbereitschaft). As a result, eight lignite-fired power plants are to be mothballed and later closed, with the first plant scheduled to cease operation in October 2016 and the last in October 2019. The affected operators will receive state compensation for foregone profits. The European Commission has declared government plans to use €1.6 billion of public financing for this purpose to be in line with EU state aid rules.[60]

A 2016 study finds that the phase-out of lignite in Lusatia (Lausitz) by 2030 can be financed by future owner EPH in a manner that avoids taxpayer involvement. Instead, liabilities covering decommissioning and land rehabilitation could be paid by EPH directly into a foundation, perhaps run by the public company LMBV. The study calculates the necessary provisions at €2.6 billion.[61][62]


Coal Production in India, 1959-2020

India is the third largest consumer of coal in the world. India's federal energy minister is planning to stop importing thermal coal by 2018.[63] The annual report of India's Power Ministry has a plan to grow power by about 80GW as part of their 11th 5-year plan, and 79% of that growth will be in fossil fuel–fired power plants, primarily coal.[64] India plans four new "ultra mega" coal-fired power plants as part of that growth, each 4000MW in capacity. As of 2015 there are six nuclear reactors under construction. In the first half of 2016, the amount of coal-fired generating capacity in pre-construction planning in India fell by 40,000 MW, according to results released by the Global Coal Plant Tracker.[65] In June 2016, India's Ministry of Power stated that no further power plants would be required in the next three years, and "any thermal power plant that has yet to begin construction should back off."[66]

The Netherlands[edit]

On 22 September 2016 the Dutch parliament voted for a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030, a move which would require the closure of the country's five coal-fired power plants. The vote is not binding on the government however.[67]

New Zealand[edit]

In October 2007, the Clark Labour government introduced a 10 year moratorium on new fossil fuel thermal power generation.[68] The ban was limited to state-owned utilities, although an extension to the private sector was considered. The new government under MP John Key (NZNP) elected in November 2008 repealed this legislation.[citation needed]

In 2014, almost 80 per cent of the electricity produced in New Zealand was from sustainable energy.[69] On 6 August 2015, Genesis Energy Limited announced that it would close its two last coal-fired power stations.[70]

South Africa[edit]

As of 2007, South Africa's power sector is the 8th highest global emitter of CO2.[71] In 2005/2006, 77% of South Africa's energy demand was directly met by coal,[72] and when current projects come online, this ratio will increase in the near term.

There are no plans to phase out coal-fired power plants in South Africa, and indeed, the country is investing in building massive amounts of new coal-fired capacity to meet power demands, as well as modernizing the existing coal-fired plants to meet environmental requirements.

On April 6, 2010, the World Bank approved a $3.75B loan to South Africa to support the construction of the world's 4th largest coal-fired plant, at Medupi.[73] The proposed World Bank loan includes a relatively small amount - $260 million - for wind and solar power.

Rated at 4800MW, Medupi Power Station would join other mammoth coal-fired power plants already in operation in the country, namely Kendal Power Station (4100MW), Majuba Power Station (4100), and Matimba Power Station (4000), as well as a similar-capacity Kusile Power Station, at 4800MW, currently under construction. Kusile is expected to come online in stages, starting in 2012, while Medupi is expected to first come online in 2013, with full capacity available by 2017. These schedules are provisional, and may change.[citation needed]

Since 2008, South Africa's government started funding solar water heating installations. As of January 2016, there have been 400 000 domestic installations in total, with free-of-charge installation of low-pressure solar water heaters for low-cost homes or low-income households which have access to the electricity grid, while other installations are subsidised.[74]

United Kingdom[edit]

Ed Miliband (energy secretary from 3 October 2008 – 11 May 2010) announced that no new coal-fired power stations will be built in Britain from 2009 onwards unless they capture and bury at least 25% of greenhouse gases immediately and 100% by 2025 although at the time this was a statement of intent rather than something he was able to enforce.[75]

Chris Huhne (energy secretary from 12 May 2010 – 5 February 2012) has confirmed that the legislation required to allow his office to enforce emissions standards are proceeding.[76]

The UK is also subject to the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive covering non-CO2 emissions which is expected to bring many older plants to a close over the next few years as they are too expensive to upgrade.[77]

Amber Rudd (energy secretary from 11 May 2015) announced on 18 November 2015 that all coal-fired power stations would close by 2025. This will not be a complete phase out of fossil fuels because new gas-fired power stations will replace them.[78]

United States[edit]

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation (US Energy Information Administration)
Total energy consumption in the US by source: comparing fossil fuels with nuclear and renewable energy.
US electrical generation: fossil fuels vs. nuclear and renewable energy

In 2007, 154 new coal-fired plants were on the drawing board in 42 states.[79] By 2012, that had dropped to 15, mostly due to new rules limiting mercury emissions, and limiting carbon emissions to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced.[80]

In July 2013, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz outlined Obama administration policy on fossil fuels:

In the last four years, we’ve more than doubled renewable energy generation from wind and solar power. However, coal and other fossil fuels still provide 80 percent of our energy, 70 percent of our electricity, and will be a major part of our energy future for decades. That’s why any serious effort to protect our kids from the worst effects of climate change must also include developing, demonstrating and deploying the technologies to use our abundant fossil fuel resources as cleanly as possible.[81]

Then-US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and researchers for the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory have noted that greater electrical generation by non-dispatchable renewables, such as wind and solar, will also increase the need for flexible natural gas-powered generators, to supply electricity during those times when solar and wind power are unavailable.[82][83] Gas-powered generators have the ability to ramp up and down quickly to meet changing loads.[84]

In the US, many of the fossil fuel phase-out initiatives have taken place at the state or local levels.

California electricity generation by source, 2010 (data from US EIA)
Sources of electricity generated in Maine. 2010 (US EIA)
Sources of electricity generated in Texas, 2010 (US EIA)
Sources of electricity generation in Washington state, 2010 (US EIA)


California's SB 1368 created the first governmental moratorium on new coal plants in the United States. The law was signed in September 2006 by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,[85] took effect for investor-owned utilities in January 2007, and took effect for publicly owned utilities in August 2007. SB 1368 applied to long-term investments (five years or more) by California utilities, whether in-state or out-of-state. It set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, equal to the emissions of a combined-cycle natural gas plant. This standard created a de facto moratorium on new coal, since it could not be met without carbon capture and sequestration.[86]


On April 15, 2008, Maine Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 2126, "An Act To Minimize Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Coal-Powered Industrial and Electrical Generating Facilities in the State." The law, which was sponsored by Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald (D-Boothbay), requires the Board of Environmental Protection to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for coal gasification facilities. It also puts a moratorium in place on building any new coal gasification facilities until the standards are developed.[87]


In early March 2016, Oregon lawmakers approved a plan to stop paying for out-of-state coal plants by 2030 and require a 50 percent renewable energy standard by 2040.[88] Environmental groups such as the American Wind Energy Association and leading democrats praised the bill.


In 2006 a coalition of Texas groups organized a campaign in favor of a statewide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. The campaign culminated in a "Stop the Coal Rush" mobilization, including rallying and lobbying, at the state capital in Austin on February 11 and 12th, 2007.[89] Over 40 citizen groups supported the mobilization.[90]

In January, 2007, A resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on new pulverized coal plants was filed in the Texas Legislature by State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson (R-Waco) as House Concurrent Resolution 43.[91] The resolution was left pending in committee.[92] On December 4, 2007, Rep. Anderson announced his support for two proposed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants proposed by Luminant (formerly TXU).[93]

Washington state[edit]

Washington has followed the same approach as California, prohibiting coal plants whose emissions would exceed those of natural gas plants. Substitute Senate Bill 6001 (SSB 6001), signed on May 3, 2007, by Governor Christine Gregoire, enacted the standard.[94] As a result of SSB 6001, the Pacific Mountain Energy Center in Kalama was rejected by the state. However, a new plant proposal, the Wallula Energy Resource Center, shows the limits of the "natural gas equivalency" approach as a means of prohibiting new coal plants. The proposed plant would meet the standard set by SSB 6001 by capturing and sequestering a portion (65 percent, according to a plant spokesman) of its carbon.[94]

Utility action in the US[edit]

  • Progress Energy Carolinas[95] announced on June 1, 2007, that it was beginning a two-year moratorium on proposals for new coal-fired power plants while it undertook more aggressive efficiency and conservation programs. The company added, "Additional reductions in future electricity demand growth through energy efficiency could push the need for new power plants farther into the future."[96]
  • Public Service of Colorado[97] concluded in its November 2007 Resource Plan: "In sum, in light of the now likely regulation of CO2 emissions in the future due to broader interest in climate change issues, the increased costs of constructing new coal facilities, and the increased risk of timely permitting to meet planned in-service dates, Public Service does not believe it would not be prudent to consider at this time any proposals for new coal plants that do not include CO2 capture and sequestration.[98]
  • Xcel Energy noted in its 2007 Resource Plan that "given the likelihood of future carbon regulation, we have only modeled a future coal-based resource option that includes carbon capture and storage."[98]
  • Minnesota Power Company[99] announced in December 2007 that it would not consider a new coal resource without a carbon solution.[98]
  • Avista Utilities[100] announced that it does not anticipate pursuing coal-fired power plants in the foreseeable future.[98]
  • NorthWestern Energy[101] announced on December 17, 2007, that it planned to double its wind power capacity over the next seven years and steer away from new baseload coal plants. The plans are detailed in the company's 2007 Montana Electric Supply Resource Plan.[102]
  • California Energy Commission (CEC) has initiated its review of two 53.4-megawatt solar thermal power plants that will each include a 40-megawatt biomass power plant to supplement the solar power.[103]

Public support for a coal moratorium[edit]

Opinion polls[edit]

Opinion research[edit]

In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll of 1,003 U.S. citizens conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

The authors of the poll reported: "75 percent of Americans—including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents—would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy—such as wind and solar—and improved home energy-efficiency standards.' Women (80 percent) were more likely than men (70 percent) to support this idea. Support also was higher among college graduates (78 percent) than among those who did not graduate from high school (68 percent).[105]

The exact question posed by the survey was as follows: More than half of power plant-generated electricity comes from coal. Experts say that power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution linked to global warming. There are plans to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the next several years. Would you support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe and renewable energy—such as wind and solar—and improved home energy-efficiency standards? Would you say definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no, or don't know.

The results were as follows:[106]

  • 30% "definitely yes"
  • 45% "probably yes"
  • 13% "probably no"
  • 8% "definitely no"
  • 4% "don't know"


In 2013, the Gallup organization determined that 41% of Americans wanted less emphasis placed on coal energy, versus 31% who wanted more. Large majorities wanted more emphasis placed on solar (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%).[107]

ABC News/Washington Post[edit]

A 2009 ABC/Washington Post poll found 52% of Americans favored more coal mining (33% strongly favored), while 45% opposed (27% strongly opposed). The most support was for wind and solar, which were favored by 91% (79% strongly favored).[108]

CLEAN call to action[edit]

In October, 2007, fifteen groups led by Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) called for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, with no exception for plants sequestering carbon. The groups included Save Our Cumberland Mountains (Tennessee); Ohio Valley Environmental Council (West Virginia); Cook Inlet Keeper (Alaska); Christians for the Mountains (West Virginia); Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Civil Society Institute (Massachusetts); Clean Power Now (Massachusetts); Indigenous Environmental Network (Minnesota); Castle Mountain Coalition (Alaska); Citizens Action Coalition (Indiana); Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment (West Virginia); Appalachian Voices (NC); and Rhode Island Wind Alliance (Rhode Island).[109]

Environmental Defense Fund[edit]

The US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has taken a stand in favor of natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing, while pressing for stricter environmental controls on gas drilling, as a feasible way to replace coal.[110] The organization has funded studies jointly with the petroleum industry on the environmental effects of natural gas production. The organization sees natural gas as a way to quickly replace coal, and that natural gas in time will be replaced by renewable energy.[111] The policy has been criticized by some environmentalists.[112] EDF counsel and blogger Mark Brownstein answered:

Demand for natural gas is not going away, and neither is hydraulic fracturing. We must be clear-eyed about this, and fight to protect public health and the environment from unacceptable impacts. We must also work hard to put policies in place that ensure that natural gas serves as an enabler of renewable power generation, not an impediment to it. We fear that those who oppose all natural gas production everywhere are, in effect, making it harder for the U.S. economy to wean itself from dirty coal.

— Mark Brownstein, EDF councel[113]

Other groups supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

Shareholder resolutions in favor of a coal moratorium[edit]

RESOLVED: Shareholders request that BOA's board of directors amend its GHG emissions policies to observe a moratorium on all financing, investment and further involvement in activities that support MTR coal mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide.[123]

Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.

  • Banker and financier Tom Sanzillo, currently First Deputy Comptroller for the state of New York, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in the state of Iowa. Citing slow growth in electricity demand and better alternative sources of energy, Sanzillo said, "It's not only good public policy, it's great economics."[125]

Prominent individuals supporting a coal phase-out[edit]

Mayors supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

On 13 October 2007, Pocatello, Idaho, mayor Roger Chase told other mayors from across the state attending an Association of Idaho Cities legislative committee that he favored a moratorium no new coal plants in the state.[127]

On 1 June 2007, Park City, Utah, mayor Dana Wilson wrote a letter to Warren Buffett expressing the city's opposition to three coal plants proposed by Rocky Mountain Power.[128]

In November 2007, Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson expressed his support for a coal moratorium at a rally organized by the Step It Up! campaign.[129]

In December 2007, Charlottesville, VA, mayor Dave Norris blogged in favor of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.[130] On December 19, 2007, Charlottesville passed the Charlottesville Clean Energy Resolution putting the city on record as supporting a moratorium.[citation needed]

Local governments supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

In January, 2008, Black Hawk County (Iowa) Health Board recommended that the state adopt a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until it enacts tougher air pollution standards.[131]


Oil is refined into fuel oil, diesel and gasoline. The refined products are primarily consumed by cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships for transportation. Popular alternatives are public transport or electric vehicles, which use electricity that may be sourced from renewables or fossil fuels. Biofuels produce similar air pollution to fossil fuels and may increase atmospheric methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Move toward renewable energy[edit]

Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. As of 2013, 19% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 9% of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, 4% from hydroelectricity 1% from biofuels and 4% from biomass, geothermal or solar heat . Popular renewables (wind, solar, geothermal and biomass for power) accounted for another 1.3% and are growing rapidly.[132]

Toward hydroelectricity[edit]

Grand Coulee Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Columbia River. The dam has an installed capacity of 6,809 MW and is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States.

In 2015 hydroelectric energy generated 16.6% of the worlds total electricity and 70% of all renewable electricity.[133] In Europe and North America environmental concerns around land flooded by large reservoirs ended 30 years of dam construction in the 1990s. Since then large dams and reservoirs continue to be built in countries like China, Brazil and India. Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity has become a popular alternative to dams that create reservoirs in environmentally sensitive areas.

Toward wind power[edit]

Main article: Wind farm
First wind farm consisting of 7,5 MW Enercon E-126 turbines, Estinnes, Belgium, 20 July 2010, two months before completion; note the 2-part blades.

A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used to produce electric power. A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines, and cover an extended area of hundreds of square miles, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other purposes. A wind farm may also be located offshore.

Wind power has grown dramatically since 2005 and by 2013 supplied almost 1% of global energy consumption.[134]

Many of the largest operational onshore wind farms are located in the United States and China. The Gansu Wind Farm in China has over 5,000 MW installed with a goal of 20,000 MW by 2020. China has several other "wind power bases" of similar size. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California, United States is the largest onshore wind farm outside of China, with a capacity of 1020 MW of power.[135] As of February 2012, the Walney Wind Farm in the United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet Offshore Wind Project (300 MW), also in the United Kingdom. As of February 2012, the Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm in Romania is the largest onshore wind farm in Europe at 600 MW.[136]

There are many large wind farms under construction and these include Sinus Holding Wind Farm (700 MW), Anholt Offshore Wind Farm (400 MW), BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Clyde Wind Farm (350 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (270 MW), London Array (1000 MW), Lower Snake River Wind Project (343 MW), Macarthur Wind Farm (420 MW), Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), and Sheringham Shoal (317 MW).

Wind power in Denmark produced the equivalent of 42.1% of total electricity consumption in 2015,[137][138] however, use of wind for heating is minor.[139][140][141][142]

Toward solar[edit]

Solar heating, solar driven turbines and solar photovoltaic are all rapidly growing in popularity. By 2020 the solar contribution to global final energy consumption will exceed 1%.[143]

Solar photovoltaics[edit]

The 71.8 MW Lieberose Photovoltaic Park in Germany.

Solar photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity and many solar photovoltaic power stations have been built. The size of these stations has increased progressively over the last decade with frequent new capacity records.

As of January 2013, the largest individual photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are Agua Caliente Solar Project, (Arizona, over 247 MW connected - to increase to 397 MW), Golmud Solar Park (China, 200 MW), Mesquite Solar project (Arizona, 150 MW), Neuhardenberg Solar Park (Germany, 145 MW), Templin Solar Park (Germany, 128 MW), Toul-Rosières Solar Park (France, 115 MW), and Perovo Solar Park (Ukraine, 100 MW). The Charanka Solar Park is a collection of solar power stations of which 214 MW were reported complete in April 2012,[144] on a 2000 ha site.[145] It is part of Gujarat Solar Park,[146][147] a group of solar farms at various locations in the Gujarat state of India, with overall capacity of 702 MW.[148] There are a total of 570 MW of solar parks in Golmud, with 500 MW more expected in 2012.[149]

Many large plants are under construction. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MW solar power plant under construction in Riverside County, California, that will use thin-film solar photovoltaic modules made by First Solar.[150] The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, being built in San Luis Obispo County, California.[151] The Blythe Solar Power Project is a 500 MW photovoltaic station under construction in Riverside County, California. The Agua Caliente Solar Project is a 290 megawatt photovoltaic solar generating facility being built in Yuma County, Arizona. The California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) is a 250 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic power plant, which is being built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northeast of California Valley.[152] The 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch is a First Solar photovoltaic project which is under construction in the Antelope Valley area of the Western Mojave Desert, and due to be completed in 2013.[153]

Many of these plants are integrated with agriculture and some use innovative tracking systems that follow the sun's daily path across the sky to generate more electricity than conventional fixed-mounted systems. Solar power plants have no fuel costs or emissions during operation.

Concentrated solar power[edit]

The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain. The Andasol plant uses tanks of molten salt to store solar energy so that it can continue generating electricity even when the sun isn't shining.[154]

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage.[155]

Toward biofuels[edit]

Main article: biofuel

Biofuels, in the form of liquid fuels derived from plant materials, are entering the market. However, many of the biofuels that are currently being supplied have been criticised for their adverse impacts on the natural environment, food security, and land use.[156][157]

Toward Biomass[edit]

Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials.[158] As a renewable energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or indirectly—once or converted into another type of energy product such as biofuel. Biomass can be converted to energy in three ways: thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion.

Using biomass as a fuel produces air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, NOx (nitrogen oxides), VOCs (volatile organic compounds), particulates and other pollutants at levels above those from traditional fuel sources such as coal or natural gas in some cases (such as with indoor heating and cooking).[159][160][161] Utilization of wood biomass as a fuel can also produce fewer particulate and other pollutants than open burning as seen in wildfires or direct heat applications.[162] Black carbon – a pollutant created by combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass – is possibly the second largest contributor to global warming.[163]:56–57 In 2009 a Swedish study of the giant brown haze that periodically covers large areas in South Asia determined that it had been principally produced by biomass burning, and to a lesser extent by fossil fuel burning.[164] Denmark has increased the use of biomass and garbage,[165] and decreased the use of coal.[166]

Energy efficiency[edit]

Main article: Efficient energy use

Moving away from fossil fuels will require changes not only in the way energy is supplied, but in the way it is used, and reducing the amount of energy required to deliver various goods or services is essential. Opportunities for improvement on the demand side of the energy equation are as rich and diverse as those on the supply side, and often offer significant economic benefits.[167]

A sustainable energy economy requires commitments to both renewables and efficiency. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are said to be the "twin pillars" of sustainable energy policy. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has explained that both resources must be developed in order to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions:[168]

Efficiency is essential to slowing the energy demand growth so that rising clean energy supplies can make deep cuts in fossil fuel use. If energy use grows too fast, renewable energy development will chase a receding target. Likewise, unless clean energy supplies come online rapidly, slowing demand growth will only begin to reduce total emissions; reducing the carbon content of energy sources is also needed.[168]

The IEA has stated that renewable energy and energy efficiency policies are complementary tools for the development of a sustainable energy future, and should be developed together instead of being developed in isolation.[169]

Nuclear energy[edit]

The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report identifies nuclear energy as one of the technologies that can provide electricity with less than 5% of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of coal power.[170] There are more than 60 nuclear reactors shown as under construction in the list of Nuclear power by country with China leading at 23. Globally, more nuclear power reactors have closed than opened in recent years but overall capacity has increased.[171] China has stated its plans to double nuclear generation by 2030. India also plans to greatly increase its nuclear power.

Several countries have enacted laws to cease construction on new nuclear power stations. Several European countries have debated nuclear phase-outs and others have completely shut down some reactors. Three nuclear accidents have influenced the slowdown of nuclear power: the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the USSR, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022.[172] Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear.[173] Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.[174] Japan’s prime minister has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.[175] Taiwan’s president did the same. Shinzō Abe, the new prime minister of Japan since December 2012, announced a plan to restart some of the 54 Japanese nuclear power plants and to continue some nuclear reactors under construction.

As of 2016, countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway have no nuclear power stations and remain opposed to nuclear power.[176][177] Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland are phasing-out their nuclear power.[171][177][178][179]

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