NRDC: U.S. has made “unprecedented” shift to renewables

(AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)
(AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

One of the largest environmental advocacy groups in the country released a report Thursday saying the U.S. has made substantial progress reducing fossil fuel use and moving to adopt more renewable energy sources.

The report, called “A tectonic shift in America’s energy landscape,” highlights the nation’s relatively rapid shift away from coal power, which New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council calls the most deadly energy source of pollution.

“The tectonic shift in the energy sector shows up clearly in America’s decreased reliance on coal,” the report states, adding that U.S. coal consumption is down by more than 21 percent from the peak year of 2005.

“By the close of 2014, the United States was relying on an unprecedented amount of renewable energy from wind turbines, solar panels, and other technologies,” the report contends. “We are bearing witness to fundamental change in the energy sector, reflecting the needs and aspirations of all who depend on it.”

Critics contend environmentalists and President Barack Obama have waged an unfair campaign against coal that has cost jobs and has increased electricity prices.

Energy and electricity consumption has largely leveled off in the U.S., although the population continues to rise. The end result is U.S. carbon emissions have decreased by 10 percent from 2005 and have gone below the country’s 1996 emission levels.

The amount of oil use in U.S. vehicles, homes and businesses rose slightly by 0.5 percent in 2014, but it has dipped overall by 13 percent since 2005 and is lower even than in 1973 when the U.S. economy was one-third of its current size.

In April and July, U.S. power plants for the first two times ever generated more electricity from natural gas than coal.

While natural gas plants are considered more environmentally friendly than their coal counterparts, the report notes natural gas production is linked to the emission of methane — the main component of natural gas — which is a “potent climate change pollutant.”

U.S. wind power has grown exponentially from virtually non-existent to make up nearly 5 percent of the nation’s electricity generation. The nation had about 2,500 megawatts of wind power capacity in 2000 and that grew to about 66,000 megawatts at the beginning of 2015. Texas leads the way with more than 15,000 megawatts of installed capacity.

Solar has now begun to grow rapidly as well with more than 20,000 megawatts of installed capacity at the end of July. More than one-third of that generation was installed since mid-2014.

Nuclear generation is relatively flat with few new plants moving forward.