Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an interactive map that shows how quickly the U.S. coal industry could decline under different price conditions.
The site makes it easy for users to trace the impact of falling solar and wind prices and Congressional tax credits for renewable energy, as well as a national carbon tax—the kind of policy that has been conspicuous by its absence from the Democratic Party platform.
In a scenario where solar and wind costs fall by 5% per year, but Congress fails to renew tax credits for the two technologies in 2019 and 2022, “the U.S. is still covered in red dots indicating coal plants,” Co.Exist notes. But if we introduce a carbon tax, the picture changes dramatically. Using the Environmental Protection Agency’s own ‘social cost of carbon’—which, at about $40 a ton, calculates future damages from climate change in today’s dollars—by 2025 most of the red dots have gone, and by 2030, coal has all but disappeared.”
“Our findings highlight the importance of technology improvement and appropriate public policy in achieving climate change mitigation targets,” note designers Joel Jean, David Borrelli, and Tony Wu. “If high rates of solar and wind cost reduction are sustained through technological and financial innovation, and if carbon emissions are appropriately priced through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade regime, new low-carbon generators could help send the aging U.S. coal fleet off to a well-deserved retirement within the next two decades.”