Friday, March 27, 2020

Last coal unit at iconic Paradise plant shuts down; U.S. coal production and employment keep going down

The Paradise Fossil Plant was the Tennessee Valley Authority's only coal-fired plant with cooling towers, typically used at nuclear power plants, because its coal burners were so big. (Associated Press photo by Dylan Lovan)
Despite Republican lawmakers' "best efforts to make good on Trump’s campaign promise to save the beleaguered coal industry, including an eleventh-hour pressure campaign, the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant at Paradise burned its last load of coal last month," Dylan Lovan reports for The Associated Press. "The plant’s closure — in a county that once mined more coal than any other in the nation — is emblematic of the industry’s decades-long decline due to tougher environmental regulations, a major push toward renewable energy and a rise in the extraction of natural gas. The shuttering of businesses nationwide and a reduced need for energy amid the global coronavirus pandemic threatens to deal coal yet another devastating blow."

The plant once had the world's largest coal-fired burners and was fed by a mine with "the world's largest shovel," as noted in the 1971 song "Paradise" by John Prine, whose father came from the long-deserted Muhlenberg County town that gave the plant its name.

The closure of the Paradise Fossil Plant now and the Navajo Generating Station in November are reminders that coal-fired power plants are an increasingly endangered species in the U.S., and that the mining jobs that fuel such plants are headed in the same direction. The overall economy added more than 6.4 million jobs in the past three years. But, though there was a small uptick in the number of coal mining jobs in the U.S. after Trump's election, the latest jobs reports show that there are nearly 1,000 fewer coal miners working compared to three years ago, Chuck Jones reports for Forbes.

"With the fuel unable to compete in most places with natural gas, nuclear, and renewables, the mining and burning of coal is increasingly toxic economically as well as environmentally. Coal mines are becoming 'stranded assets' — unlikely ever to pay off the costs of their development. The risks for financiers are becoming too great," Fred Pearce reports for Yale Environment 360. "Twelve years ago, 45 percent of U.S. electricity was generated by burning coal. The figure is now 24 percent and falling fast."

The waning usage of coal worldwide is making a measurable difference on the environment: according to a recent report by climate think-tank Ember, global carbon emissions from electricity generation fell by 2 percent last year, the biggest drop in nearly 30 years, mostly because of milder winters and less reliance on coal-generated power worldwide (though China has increased its reliance on coal-fired power plants), Jillian Ambrose and Simon Goodley report for The Guardian.

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