Burning Coal Generates Little Electricity in California

Burning coal to create electricity is in steep decline because of California’s strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest California Energy Commission tracking progress report finds coal-fired electricity in California fell about 75 percent from 2007 to 2016. In that span, coal provided a high of about 18 percent of California’s electricity in 2008 and a low of about 4 percent in 2016.

“We’ve come a long way from the Bleak House of Charles Dickens,” said Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller. “No longer is coal a significant part of California’s energy mix. California is showing the world that a portfolio of clean energy is reliable, creates jobs, reduces health problems and limits environmental impacts.”

Coal’s share of the electricity mix is projected to be 3 percent by 2019 and to almost zero by the end of 2025. Those dates are driven by expiring contracts with existing out-of-state coal facilities. The only coal plant in California is the 63-megawatt Argus Cogen plant in San Bernardino County.

California’s emissions performance standard and greenhouse emission goals are the forces driving the decline of coal. The standard, established in 2006, limited the carbon dioxide emission rate of any energy source, according to the tracking progress report.

A pair of greenhouse gas emission goals reinforced California’s commitment to clean energy. The first, established by the Legislature and Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. Next, the Governor increased the standard to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

While coal is quickly becoming a part of the past in California, it continues to be a dominant, although declining, source of energy throughout the country. Nationally, coal generation fell about 18 percent from 2007 to 2016. Other states joining California with little reliance on coal include Oregon, Washington, Idaho and the Northeastern states.

Intermountain Power Plant, a coal-fired power plant, located in Delta, Utah.

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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