Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Report: Coal will continue to dwindle because of market forces

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says that the nation's energy mix will include less and less coal in the coming years, mostly because of market forces. "The availability of low-cost natural gas, flattening electricity demand, and the rapidly declining cost of renewable energy such as wind and solar have together made coal power less economically competitive," the report says.

"In 2008, coal represented about 52 percent of the nation’s electricity supply. By 2016, that share had fallen to 31 percent. Fifty-nine gigawatts, or about 17 percent of the nation’s coal-fired generating capacity, was retired and another 13 gigawatts switched to other fuels during that period," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia.

The report says that 38 percent of today's coal fleet faces an "uncertain future" because of high operating costs for some coal-powered plants and planned retirement or conversion to alternate fuel sources for others.
Operating coal units as of 2016, color coded to show which have announced retirement or conversion to another fuel source, and which are "uneconomic", meaning the power they put out could be produced more cheaply with natural gas. At bottom is a comparison of units by state. Click to enlarge it. (Union of Concerned Scientists graph)

Coal jobs have been dwindling for years, though an increase in demand for steel-making coal has brought a recent uptick in jobs, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data. "Most experts agree, though, that the coal downturn was driven mostly by competition from low-priced natural gas, and that any coal rebound is likely to be small and short-lived in the state," Ward reports.

USC, it must be noted, is pro-clean energy, but provides soundly-sourced data. The report was released Oct. 9, the day after Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

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