Dark days ahead for coal
The cost of new emissions rules could give natural gas a big edge. But a hungry world market is ready to take US production.
Is U.S. coal use becoming less cost-effective? A new study from Duke University suggests it might be, at least domestically.
Researchers at the university's Nicholas School of the Environment say stricter government regulations could make nearly two-thirds of America's coal-fired power plants as costly to operate as plants powered by natural gas.
"Because of the cost of upgrading plants to meet the EPA's pending emissions regulations and its stricter enforcement of current regulations, natural gas plants would become cost-competitive with a majority of coal plants," said Lincoln Pratson, the study's lead author, "even if natural gas becomes more than four times as expensive as coal."
Pratson says the coal industry is much more economically vulnerable than previously thought, given the costs for complying with EPA standards. According to the study, just 9% of U.S. coal-fired plants are currently more expensive to run than an average natural gas facility.
But with the costly new proposed emissions controls the EPA is scheduled to start enforcing by 2016, 56% of U.S. coal plants would be as expensive to run as their natural gas counterparts. And those environmental standards would still weigh on the costs of coal, even if gas prices were to rise significantly.
The Washington Post's Wonkblog quotes a government report from last year that found the owners and operators of older and smaller plants were preparing to retire 27 gigawatts worth of coal-generated power, or around 8.5% of the coal fleet, between 2012 and 2016.
America is home to more than one-quarter of the world's coal supply. About 90% of the coal used in the U.S. goes toward energy production, according to the Institute for Energy Research, and 42% of all electricity generated here is due to coal.
The Duke researchers note that air pollution from the U.S. energy sector has dropped significantly over the past several decades, especially carbon dioxide, "largely due to greater use of natural gas power plants in place of coal plants."
But whether coal declines as a power source, they say, also depends not only on the new EPA regulations but also on a successful transition to natural gas, which will require more funding and construction of the infrastructure needed to transport and store the gas.
And what would happen to all that coal if it's not used here in the U.S.? It will most likely end up exported to nations with insatiable appetites for electricity like Brazil, China and South Korea.
And if that comes to pass, noted Wonkblog's Brad Plumer, the U.S. power plant regulations won't help efforts to reduce global climate change. "After all," he said, "carbon-dioxide that's released by burning coal will heat up the planet no matter where it's burned."
I live where coal has been the no.1 economical resource for years; however, now it is no longer "useful" to some of these dictators in our government. Lots of people in this area are losing their jobs due to the cut back in coal use. It will not only affect the coal miners, but the entire companies personnel. This will in-turn affect other companies in the community. Coal has and always be a positive source of energy for the USA.
Just look at it this way we only have to put up with Obama for 3 more years and he can NEVER RETURN!!!
Also I predict he will go down in history as one of the worst Presidents in modern time.............
This article is just nonsense. Out on the west coast a union (SSA Marine) and an energy corporation are pushing to build super terminals all along the coastline for the export of coal to China, just as the U.S. is cutting back on coal production to conserve the resource for future needs.
Coal is already being mined in the Powder River Basin here in the U.S. and shipped via rail to seaports in Vancouver, BC Canada for export to China. The whole proposition has several holes in it. First, the U.S. has already run out of the the "good stuff." Anthracite, the light sweet crude of coal has effectively been all mined out. Second, all that is left is bituminous, which is much less energy rich and offers a greatly reduced BTU yield. Third, there is only a 25-year supply of that in the Powder River Basin if the greed and avarice of these two self-interested parties are allowed to have their way with exporting U.S. coal to China.
What the U.S. should be doing is preserving what coal it has left for domestic consumption by future generations, face the fact that coal (like everything else) is a finite resource -- and stop allowing this fantasyland propaganda to be printed.
So the EPA is making things harder for the Coal industry to compete via restrictions that make Natural
Gas more competitive and ultimately screwing the American comsumers by increasing the cost of
electricity from a less efficient fuel for generation.
US govt. must assist power generators using coal to upgrade their plants by low interest loans. The upgrade to clean coal electricity production will help those areas of country that experience high unemployment because of govt. policies that give preference to other energy sources. We must have a mix of energy, otherwise we become vulnerable to the geopolitical upheavals we have previouly experienced in regards to energy production. Also nuclear power generation must be in this mix. I want clean air, but I don't want to be held hostage to the politics of energy. We can have affordable and rational energy policy that does not harm the environment or consumers.
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