North America, USA, Arizona, Page, Lake Powell, Navajo Generating Station at Sunrise (now shuttered)./Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
An analysis has found that in 2020, only 12.6% of all electricity generated in Arizona was generated from coal, a decline of more than 62% from five years ago.
Coal is one of the cheapest energy sources available in the U.S., in part because the U.S. houses a large portion of the world’s coal reserves. But coal also has other environmental and social downsides that have made it a less desirable fuel source. Mining and burning coal heavily emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane and also poses risks of air and water pollution. Many policymakers and environmental advocates are now pushing for a transition away from coal for that reason.
Until recently, however, cost won out, and inexpensive coal was the predominant fuel source in the U.S., accounting for more than half of electricity generation in the U.S. up until 2003. Since then, dependence on coal has plummeted and currently accounts for only 19.3% of total U.S. generation.
In 2019 the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, the largest coal-fired plant in the West, was shut down. It has since been leveled.
The swift decline in coal has been made possible as other cleaner energy sources have become less expensive. Natural gas has seen a major boom over the last two decades as techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling made it easier to extract. Renewable sources like wind and solar have also become less expensive and more widely adopted in recent years thanks to government investment and technological advances. As a result, the share of electricity generated from renewables has risen by two-thirds since 1990.