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Solar Farms Will Power Native American Land as the US Shutters Coal Plants

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Oct 30, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

The lights continue to dim at coal-fired power plants in the United States. Two weeks ago, Oregon retired its last remaining active coal plant, 20 years ahead of schedule. Portland General Electric, which operated the coal plant, said it would replace the energy the plant produced with regionally sourced hydroelectric power and additional renewable energy projects developed in the coming years.

Further south, the Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM) is using solar power to move away from coal. Last week, it broke ground on a new 50-megawatt solar field. Combined with other renewable energy projects, it will allow the City of Albuquerque to generate 88 percent of its power from renewable resources by the end of 2021. Dubbed PNM Solar Direct, the solar farm will also power Western New Mexico University and additional partnering facilities beyond the city itself.

The New Mexico utility also announced plans to develop another solar farm with similar production capacity in the coming years to offset the power lost when a major coal-fired power plant shuts down in 2022, according to a report in Smart Cities Dive.

What’s more, the new project is located on the land of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, making it the largest solar array on Native land in the US. The project was developed in conjunction with the Jicarilla Apache Nation and will provide two megawatts of power to the tribe, a massive step forward in its goal of controlling its own energy under the Jicarilla Apache Nation Power Authority (JANPA), established in 2014.

“PNM Solar Direct is an innovative project built in the roots of partnership and a common goal to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Kelly Renee Huber, senior communications representative from PNM, in a YouTube video.

Zoom out to the entire country and the picture is equally encouraging for the transition to renewable energy. In the first six months of 2020, US coal power production fell by an astonishing 30 percent, according to the US Energy Information Administration. A separate report from the same agency found that as of August, over 100 coal-fired plants have been replaced or converted to natural gas since 2011. In 2020 alone, at least 15 coal plants were decommissioned or announced plans to close in the coming years.

Coal power is on the rise in China and to a lesser capacity, in India and elsewhere in Asia, leaving much work to be done in the global effort to meet the demands of the Paris Agreement and to decarbonize the global economy. But as of this year, only slightly more than 200 of nearly 10,000 power plants in the United States are coal-powered — meaning the US, the world’s largest consumer of energy, is on the right track.

To be sure, the US is still the world’s second-largest coal consumer. But as solar and wind farms are increasingly embraced by public utilities, driving the price down for solar power and boxing out less efficient energy sources, the curve is set to continue toward rapid declines in coal production and use.

More climate wins this week

Japan announced it would reach climate neutrality by 2050, a big pledge from the world’s third-largest economy. Critics point out that the country made this pledge despite having nearly 10 GW of coal-powered plants under construction or in planning — though Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the country would consider reevaluating its reliance on coal power.

New York is finally enforcing its long-awaited plastic bag ban. Retailers caught handing out plastic bags could face a $500 fine. The move makes New York the fifth state in the country to outright ban plastic bags, with three states — Delaware, Maine, and Connecticut — joining the club in 2021.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is booting cars out of the center of Paris — by removing half of the city’s available parking spots. According to a report in Forbes, Paris will gut 70,000 of its 140,000 parking spaces in order to make its streets more accessible to bicycles and pedestrians.

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