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For the First Time Ever, the US Will Make More Energy From Renewables Than Coal

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger May 15, 2020

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

Happy Friday, Matador readers. A major milestone happened this week: data released by the US Energy Information Administration shows that the United States is on track to produce more energy from renewable sources than from coal in 2020. If the prediction holds, this would mark the first time that’s ever happened. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that coal is on track to produce 19 percent of our nation’s energy this year, below the amount produced by both renewable and nuclear power. The statistics include hydroelectric dams in the renewable category, which is a whole other issue. But the positive takeaway is that electric utilities continue to rapidly phase out coal.

The drop in coal-powered energy use is partly the result of a decrease in overall energy use during stay-at-home orders. The report from the Times states that renewable-energy use topped coal use on 90 separate days within the first four months of 2020. But it looks as though 2020 could mark a turning point in the long-range conversion to clean energy in the developed world.

Southern California Edison, a major power supplier for the most populous state in the nation, commissioned a giant solar farm in the eastern California desert back in 2016. This was a huge win when it happened, as it was slated to generate enough solar energy to power 181,000 homes. Earlier in May, the utility announced that it’s stepping up the facility by adding 770 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries to store power for distribution when the desert sun isn’t shining, according to the Los Angeles Times. And that’s not all. The energy saved by the batteries will help the utility shutter four coal-burning power plants in southern California.

Big renewable energy news also blew in from across the Atlantic this week. Northeastern England and Scotland are set to receive massive — as in multi-billion dollar — investments in wind energy, The Guardian reported on Wednesday. Projects include what will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the Yorkshire coast and the “repowering” of an old wind farm in Scotland that will power 100,000 homes and create 600 jobs, 280 of which will be permanent.

Here’s what else is happening in sustainability news this week.

Planting sea meadows to capture carbon

Also in the UK, a recently launched initiative will plant sea meadows off the coast of the island nation in an effort to capture carbon. The Guardian noted that the project will plant seagrass seeds directly into the ocean bottom, creating “forests” of the grass. Not only do these sea meadows capture massive amounts of carbon, they will also provide habitat for endangered sea life and help to restore a more biodiverse ecosystem in the waters surrounding the UK.

The end of factory farming?

That line got our attention too. Unlikely any time soon, but a bill to vastly change the industry in the US was introduced to the Senate by Senator Cory Booker in December. This week, The Hill reported that Senator Elizabeth Warren had signed on as a co-sponsor, and that Representative Ro Khanna would bring a companion bill to the House of Representatives. The Farm System Reform Act calls for a phasing out of factory farms by 2040. With coronavirus outbreaks spreading at major meatpacking plants across the country, the bill hopes to bring a shift in the country’s food systems to prioritize the work and well-being of small family farmers.

Two great movies to watch at home

This week’s action task is quite entertaining and a great way to spend a night home on the couch. We mentioned above the issue surrounding hydroelectric dams, but didn’t provide context as to why some find them troubling. The issues stem from the impact of the dams themselves on the river ecosystems they intrude upon, and we encourage you to watch one (or both) of the following two movies available for free online streaming. Each does a great job of explaining the issue. The first is DamNation from Patagonia, which follows narrator Ben Knight’s exploration into US river ecosystems altered by massive power-generating dams in the 20th century. The second is The Radicals from Canadian nonprofit Beyond Boarding. This film follows a group of activist snowboarders and First Nations in their pursuit to protect the wild rivers of northern British Columbia.

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