A historic turning point: solar beat coal in Virginia in 2021

Photo by Activ Solar via Wikimedia Commons.

It had to happen sometime, but even staunch supporters of Virginia’s transition to clean energy might not have expected this so soon in a former coal state. The precipitous decline of coal as a fuel source, and the rise of solar energy as the new “fuel” of choice, resulted in solar facilities producing more electricity than coal did in Virginia over the course of 2021. 

Using Energy Information Agency data, the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia produced these two graphs. Bill Shobe, the center’s director of economic research, says Virginia generated 3,365 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity with solar and 3,130 GWh with coal. 

Only three coal-fired plants remain in Virginia: Chesterfield (slated for retirement), Clover, and Virginia City. All have capacity factors in the ‘teens, meaning they are idle most of the time. They now run only during the coldest months of winter and the hottest months of summer (producing the spikes you see in the month-by-month graph), and all are under economic pressure to close for good. In addition, Dominion Energy owns the Mt. Storm coal plant just over the border in West Virginia that runs about 42 percent of the time. 

4 thoughts on “A historic turning point: solar beat coal in Virginia in 2021

  1. This is good to see but would note that AEP/Appalachian Power (the second-largest provider in Virginia) uses coal-fired plants in West Virginia for over 64.5% of the electricity it generates in WV and sells in Southwest Virginia. So using only data for fuels used in Virginia misses this. AEP refuses to buy wind energy from an approved wind farm near Roanoke, insisting on instead crediting wind sources it owns in Illinois. Their “clean energy” plan is a joke but does not really show up in these numbers because they use the larger grid for sourcing. https://roanoke.com/news/local/appalachian-power-plans-for-its-renewable-energy-future/article_62237016-c27f-11ec-840d-4b88d80c6c54.html

    • As I described in the previous post, ten years ago the advancements in fracking technology made fracked gas relatively cheap and plentiful, and utilities rushed to build gas plants to take advantage of it. Dominion built three huge gas plants in less than a decade.

  2. This graph of the quick rise of solar energy to pass coal’s use in Virginia makes me so happy I intend to print it and frame it and maybe tape it to my door! Thanks, Ivy and others

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