25 November 2009 – Can you sense there is an end to burning coal? Even six months ago this idea might have seemed crazy, but in the past few weeks there is a sense that the world could change -fundamentally.

Take Los Angeles, the capital city that has exported its culture through Hollywood to the entire world.

Its Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, LA has set a goal of going coal-free by 2010, according to ABC’s Lateline on Monday night.

“As LA goes so goes California. As California goes so goes the nation and as the nation goes, there is an impact all across the world,”  he said.

As a consequence, one of LA’s major suppliers of coal-fired electricity, the Intermountain Power Authority in Utah has decided not to expand the coal fired power station as planned.

“We find fewer and fewer people want coal fired power so the timing is not good for coal fired energy,” IPA general manager, Jim Hewlett said.

“We don’t subscribe necessarily to all of the science but we can’t ignore that the tide of sentiment is against coal fired energy right now.”

In Mr Villaraigosa’s view the end coal fired energy for LA would have an impact well beyond the city.

Far from crazy, this kind of talk is looking saner and more likely.

Other places in the US are following suit.

Here’s what the highly respected Earth Policy Institute in the US said in October this year,in an article that we pointed to in a separate posting, entitled, US Headed for Massive Decline in Carbon Emissions, by Lester R Brown

“In July, the Sierra Club—coordinator of the national anti-coal campaign—announced the hundredth cancellation of a proposed plant since 2001. This battle is leading to a de facto moratorium on new coal plants. Despite the coal industry’s $45-million annual budget to promote ‘clean coal,’ utilities are giving up on coal and starting to close plants. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), with 11 coal plants (average age 47 years) and a court order to install over $1 billion worth of pollution controls, is considering closing its plant near Rogersville, Tennessee, along with the six oldest units out of eight in its Stevenson, Alabama, plant.

“TVA is not alone. Altogether, some 22 coal-fired power plants in 12 states are being replaced by wind farms, natural gas plants, wood chip plants, or efficiency gains. Many more are likely to close as public pressure to clean up the air and to cut carbon emissions intensifies. Shifting from coal to natural gas cuts carbon emissions by roughly half. Shifting to wind, solar, and geothermal energy drops them to zero.

“State governments are getting behind renewables big time. Thirty-four states have adopted renewable portfolio standards to produce a larger share of their electricity from renewable sources over the next decade or so. Among the more populous states, the renewable standard is 24 percent in New York, 25 per cent in Illinois, and 33 per cent in California.

“While coal plants are closing, wind farms are multiplying. In 2008, a total of 102 wind farms came online, providing more than 8,400 megawatts of generating capacity. Forty-nine wind farms were completed in the first half of 2009 and 57 more are under construction. More important, some 300,000 megawatts of wind projects (think 300 coal plants) are awaiting access to the grid.

“US solar cell installations are growing at 40 per cent a year. With new incentives, this rapid growth in rooftop installations on homes, shopping malls, and factories should continue. In addition, some 15 large solar thermal power plants that use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate electricity are planned in California, Arizona, and Nevada. A new heat-storage technology that enables the plants to continue generating power for up to six hours past sundown helps explain this boom.

“For many years, US geothermal energy was confined largely to the huge Geysers project north of San Francisco, with 850 megawatts of generating capacity. Now the United States, with 132 geothermal power plants under development, is experiencing a geothermal renaissance.

“After their century-long love-affair with the car, Americans are turning to mass transit. There is hardly a US city that is not either building new light rail, subways, or express bus lines or upgrading and expanding existing ones.”

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