How the U.S. Can Retire All Coal Plants by 2050

Aggressive and sustained investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy would allow the U.S. to retire existing coal-fired power plants and a quarter of the its nuclear capacity by 2050.

The upfront costs would be modest -- $10 billion in 2020, or $2.20 monthly for the average residential customer, but by 2040, the savings would begin reaching consumers' pocketbooks. Deploying existing high-efficient technology across every sector, such as lighting, HVAC and water heating, could cut electricity use by 15 percent from today's requirements.

All of this can occur independent of federal climate change legislation should Congress fail to pass an energy bill this year, according to Synapse Energy Economics, author of "Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Future without Coal and Nuclear Power in the U.S."

Renewable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, could grow to provide half of the country's electricity needs, said the report, prepared for the Civil Society Institute. "The electric power industry in the U.S. is at a crossroads," Civil Society Institute President Pam Solo said in a statement. "While the industry remains obsessed with such dirty and needlessly expensive 19th and 20th century 'business as usual' solutions as coal-fired and nuclear power, there is an opportunity today to make the transition without multi-billion dollar gambles on unproven carbon capture and sequestration technology and risky nuclear loan-guarantee bailouts."

It was released Tuesday, the day before Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)  unveiled their delayed climate change legislation without their their third original sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The bill faces an uphill battle, complicated by the Gulf oil spill and renewed push on immigration reform following the passage of Arizona's new immigration bill.

The report draws its conclusion based on two scenarios: business as usual, using the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration 25-year forecast to predict the U.S. will use nearly 50 percent more electricity and have a 10 percent bigger coal fleet; and the transition scenario, where all coal-fired capacity, and 28 percent of nuclear capacity, is retired.

It pegged the cost of the transition scenario at roughly $10 billion in 2020, breaking down to about $2.20 per month for the typical residential consumer using 900 kWh per month. By 2040, the same customer would save about $1.50 per month. Savings per month for this customer would grow to nearly $3.90 by 2050.