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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Fossil Fuels Are Failing, FERC Data Shows

George Harvey

Every week or so, I go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) website to see if anything new is going on. A problem with this is that to make sense of anything, you have to be able to crunch numbers in your head and compare them with the numbers you saw on the last visit. It is all a very dull process that no one seems to want to bother with. In this case, the numbers came out with no fanfare on July 9. I just happened to notice them when they were already nearly a week old, but I am reporting on them because no one seems to have done so already.

For the first time, FERC is projecting a net decline of U.S. fossil fuel capacity over the next three years. Here are relevant figures, given in megawatts, from the report issued on July 9 (https://bit.ly/2DLpAq7):

 

Highly Probable Additions

Retirements

Net Change

Coal

0

20696

-20696

Natural gas

23415

5935

17480

Oil

4

3986

-3982

Net change in Fossil fuels

-7198

Highly Probable Additions Retirements Net Change

Water

2063

7

2056

Wind

26798

239

26559

Biomass

191

67

124

Geothermal

213

35

178

Solar

26154

0

26154

Waste Heat

29

0

29

Net change, Renewables

55100

 

There are currently four FERC commissioners, all of whom were appointed by Donald Trump. They have been seen as having antipathy for renewable power and appear to have been pushing a fossil fuel agenda. I think it is fairly safe to assume that the projections of rapid growth of renewables and decline in fossil fuels capacity are not here because the commissioners have faith in a green future.

We have arrived at the point where fossil fuels are going into decline, and it seems that even FERC can see it. Even with low oil and gas prices, and even with the federal government pushing a fossil fuels agenda, the future of fossil fuels looks bleak. The Trump administration did not save coal, which the president clearly wanted it to do. And now, it looks like it will not be able to save oil and gas.

To some extent, the decline of fossil fuels has resulted from public pressure. People have long recognized that their health requires clean air, and with our dependence on fossil fuels, very few of us have access to that. More recently, people have been getting organized to stop climate change. But those are not the only issues the fossil fuels industries have to deal with.

The cost of electricity from renewable generation has been falling, and it is now at a point where electricity from solar and wind plants is significantly less expensive than what we get from natural gas, coal, and nuclear facilities. This is especially worrying to those who sell fossil fuels, because the decline in the cost of renewable generation is projected to continue for the foreseeable future, as new efficiencies come to bear.

This change has already been noted in the media, as use of natural gas for generating coal has declined in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. But before the pandemic struck, oil and gas were already suffering. The low prices for petroleum that came with fracking have made that particular method of destroying the environment unprofitable. Despite this, the Trump administration has been trying to make it easier to develop resources on federal land and install pipelines. That is not making things easier for the oil and gas industry, because it does not address their basic problem.

Coal, oil, and natural gas are suffering because they are increasingly obsolete. Money put into trying to reverse that trend will be money lost. We might as well go back to manual typewriters while the rest of the world uses computers.

 

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