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The U.S. can phase out coal by 2030 and help achieve its climate goals

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picture of coal power plant in the United States

A new analysis, released today by the Center for Global Sustainability (CGS) at the University of Maryland, shows how the United States can phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030—contributing to achieving its 2030 climate target and putting it on a pathway toward 100% clean electricity by 2030. The new analysis offers pathways and policy strategies to generate substantial near-term, low-cost greenhouse gas emissions reductions, allowing the U.S. to meet these domestic climate goals and supporting global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C.

U.S. coal production has steadily declined in the past decade, facing increased economic pressure from more cost-competitive fuel sources such as renewable energy and gas. To accelerate coal's decline and achieve a complete phase-out by 2030, the analysis demonstrates a concrete plant-by-plant retirement pathway that would enable the United States to retire roughly ⅔ of plants by 2025 while maintaining grid stability and achieving other priorities. 

“Our analysis is based on a detailed plant-by-plant assessment and provides critical coal retirement strategies for policymakers for a 2030 U.S. coal power phase-out,” says Ryna Cui, Assistant Research Professor and lead for the global coal program at the Center for Global Sustainability. “The good news is that we already made large progress by closing 124 GW of coal plants since 2010 and are left with 132 GW to be retired in the next eight years, contributing about 60% of the emissions reductions needed to meet the U.S. NDC target.”

Despite setbacks from regional differences and political hurdles, including the Supreme Court’s recent West Virginia vs. Environmental Protection Agency ruling, a coal phaseout is increasingly possible and likely even without government intervention. However, with intervention, jobs and communities can be assisted with the transition to prevent excess job losses and hardships that have already begun. 

“This analysis shows how, by executing a clear, plant-by-plant retirement pathway that focuses on the least efficient and oldest plants first, we could retire 66.5% of current U.S. coal capacity by 2025. That is a critical step for limiting warming to 1.5C and signaling to the global community that the U.S. is committed to reaching our ambitious goals on the domestic and international front,” says Prof. Nate Hultman, Director for the Center for Global Sustainability. “This new analysis can help policymakers develop and act on coal retirement plans, helping cities and states switch to cheaper and cleaner energy sources.” 

Download the brief to learn more about pathways, challenges, and strategies for a U.S. coal phase-out. 

Meet the team behind the research: The policy brief was led by Camryn Dahl and supported by Ryna Cui, Alicia Zhao, Shannon Kennedy, and graduate assistants Clarie Squire and Diyang Cui.

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