A Lost Decade: Fossil Fuel Production Grew as Renewables Boomed

Analysis shows urgent need for climate action to stop fossil fuel production

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Climate and Energy

New research from the national environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch reveals that a decade of impressive growth in the clean energy industry was matched by increases in fossil fuel production – showing that any meaningful climate policy must focus on measures to stop new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure.

Over that past decade (2010-2020), solar and wind generation grew considerably. The share of renewable energy on the U.S. electrical grid rose from 2.8 percent to 11.5 percent. But over the same time frame, fossil gas went from supplying 22.7 percent of electricity to 39.3 percent. Overall fossil fuel production (coal, oil and gas) grew throughout the period as well.

The research is featured in a new report, “Averting Climate Catastrophe: Fossil Fuels Must End While Renewables Take Over,” which lays out the ways that domestic fossil fuel production has continued to grow, thanks to plastics production and a massive increase in gas exports. 

The research casts serious doubt on climate policies that exclusively focus on developing new sources of clean power, such as those that rely heavily on tax credits and other incentives. And it serves as a stark rebuke to the assurances of fracking boosters that gas production would serve as a clean energy ‘bridge.’ As the data show, fossil fuels have grown alongside renewables. 

“What this research shows us is that building more renewables while continuing to promote the development of dirty energy puts us on the climate treadmill. We’re going nowhere fast in the race to slash climate pollution,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The so-called fracking boom was a boon to the dirty energy industry, which cynically deployed arguments about gas being a clean energy bridge. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we need is immediate action to confront the fossil fuel industry and stop new fossil fuel projects.”

The Food & Water Watch report highlights similar dynamics at the state level. In Virginia, where a new state climate law received national acclaim, plans to build substantial new wind and solar capacity were overshadowed by twice as much fracked gas capacity that came online between 2010 and 2020. California enjoys a reputation as a climate leader, and produces the most solar power in the country. But it also uses more gas than every state but Texas, and is a massive electricity importer, some of which is sourced from out-of-state coal plants. While the state’s gas-fired generation has declined by 29 percent since 2015, the reliance on out-of-state generators has left overall gas generation unchanged.