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The Autopsy Is in: Natural Gas Killed Coal

The Autopsy Is in: Natural Gas Killed Coal thumbnail

In case anyone doubts the death of coal, experts just issued the autopsy.

A new report from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University looks at exactly what’s causing coal’s demise. It finds that cheap natural gas is responsible for roughly half the decline in U.S. coal consumption. Falling demand for electricity and cheap wind and solar account for most of the rest. Adding insult to mortal injury, falling demand for coal from China put a dent in U.S. exports.

Environmental regulations—a frequent scapegoat of coal companies—did accelerate coal plant retirements, but the effect was small. Overall, the report finds that President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental protections will do little for coal country.

Employment across the coal sector has declined. Today, coal employs just 160,000 workers nationwide while the solar industry employs some 375,000. Even in the heart of Appalachia, businesses are turning away from coal.

This week, Charleston, West Virginia-based utility Appalachian Power said that it won’t be building any new coal plants and will instead look at building out solar and wind to bring companies like Amazon and Google to West Virginia—companies that want to source their power from renewables. And in an ironic twist, the Kentucky Coal Museum is going solar to save money on power.

While there is little that the president or lawmakers can do to rescue the coal industry, they can throw a lifeline to coal workers. Congress has until the end of the week to ensure that more than 22,000 retired miners continue to have access to federally funded healthcare. Coal companies that declared bankruptcy in recent years were relieved from contributing to the fund.

Coal is on its deathbed. And while Washington can’t revive the industry, it can revive Appalachia.


10 Comments on "The Autopsy Is in: Natural Gas Killed Coal"

  1. Ghung on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 9:39 am 

    An industry that produced 728,232,000 short tons of coal in 2016 isn’t exactly dead, eh? As for employment, automation has been displacing jobs in the coal mines for years, not so different from other industries.
    Anyway, with so much cheap natural gas displacing coal (one pre-20th century energy source taking market share from another pre-20th century energy source), those folks in the coal sector should have seen the writing on the wall a couple of decades ago; find something better to do.

  2. bobinget on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 9:55 am 

    Soon, NG will make it’s mark on oil.
    Science made lifting oil cheaper as intended.
    The unintended has to be natural gas. Just a few years ago, $3.17, today’s price, gas was flared if no pipelines were close by. Today we are exporting NG and still making a profit.
    compare that chart to this:

  3. joe on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 1:43 pm 

    All the same end game. Ill get my wellies and my life raft. So much talk, oil, gas, Trump, war, money. Its going nowhere.

  4. dave thompson on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 1:47 pm 

    This article touts Natural gas as if there will never be a supply problem with it. When the day comes that there is a shortage in the not to distant future, we shall see.

  5. rockman on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 9:16 pm 

    To add to Ghung’s observation:

    The world is currently consuming more coal then at any other time in history prior to 2011.

    Coal prices significantly vary from one region to another. Currently coal consumption is growing fastest in Asia with much of the supply coming from Australia:

    As of March 2017 Aussie coal was selling for $80/short ton. BTW when global coal production peaked in 2011 the price was $37/short ton. Adjusted for inflation that current price is the highest since records began in 1949 and more then twice the average price for the last 68 year.

    King Coal is dead? Well, kiss my hairy ass. LOL. And folks better pray the alts build out very fast before NG prices increase 3X to 4X what they were not that many years ago.

    Cherry picking time frames to make a point is a con man’s game.

  6. Cloggie on Fri, 28th Apr 2017 3:06 am 

    Employment across the coal sector has declined. Today, coal employs just 160,000 workers nationwide while the solar industry employs some 375,000. Even in the heart of Appalachia, businesses are turning away from coal.

    That’s the best take away point: 160k against 375k employed in a “Darwinian” survival-of-the-fittest capitalist economic environment.

    And after coal, oil is next.

    King Coal is dead? Well, kiss my hairy ass. LOL.

    They are coming to take me away, ha ha

  7. Davy on Fri, 28th Apr 2017 5:13 am 

    I am disgusted with modern civilization and coal is front and center of that disgust. Its production is rapping the land and its consumption is polluting the atmosphere. A significant amount of electricity powered by coal is used on mindless human diversions that are really just realized insanity when one considers how precarious our survival really is underneath the false narrative of exceptionalism. That is my emotional disgust but the reality is also coal now means survival of what we have and are. We are not going to leave coal and have this and what is after this appears to be horrible.

    Coal is a backbone of industrial civilization that supports us all. It is not going away before all of this goes away despite what the techno optimist’s fantasies say about their fake green world ahead. Coal is TBTF segment of the world’s energy sector. It is still plentiful although the best is depleting fast. Its contribution to the world energy needs is too large to phase out and continue modernism. Modernism has no future anyway so let’s be real and grownups about coal and who we really are.

    Maybe instead of talking about phasing coal out we should talk about getting used to humans downsizing because we have no choice. Let’s change our attitudes and lifestyles and power down instead of being fake green and selling affluence that in reality is only more of more. We are producing more alternative energy as fossil fuels increase. They are mistakenly calling natural gas clean and they dismiss all the dirty development involved in producing alternatives. It’s all dirty folks. We are dirty humans with dirty minds and dirty needs. Let’s get clear about what dirt is should be our first exercise instead of lies. The fake greens keep saying someday we will be 100% renewable but the reality is just more of everything until modernism gives out. Coal is death but so is modernism. Let’s try to reduce coal as we reduce everything else so we can be prepared for when we are all hungry, cold, and crying over all the death around us.

  8. rockman on Fri, 28th Apr 2017 11:58 am 

    Cloggie – The primary reason for the decrease in US coal mining employment is the switch from eastern subsurface mining to western surface mining. Don’t know the exact ratio but one western miner probably digs out at least 5 times as much as an eastern miner once did.

  9. Cloggie on Fri, 28th Apr 2017 12:30 pm 

    You don’t need many people indeed for surface mining. 1 person can accomplish a lot:

    Nevertheless, 375k people employed in the sunshine business is a clear sign on the wall.

  10. Boat on Sat, 29th Apr 2017 9:07 pm 

    The story on coal is spreading. In July India was reported to have 360 plants that burned coal in the pipeline. The electricity planned was around 225 GW. Nine months later India has decided to go with wind and solar instead. The world is beginning to get it’s shyt together. China turning the corner, India turning the corner, the US has Trump voters. Thank goodness solar and wind are so cheap now even Trump can’t stop the transition. Plant will get on her knees and thank Obama someday. Lol

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