Tag Archives: War on coal

AEP Looks Forward, Beyond Coal, Trump Team Still Stuck In The Past

The rear guard defending the coal industry in the White House and across the mall at the Department of Energy need to put their reading glasses on and spend some quality time with a couple of just-released documents that put to rest any dreams of recovery.

The first, from American Electric Power, is a corporate document filled with congratulatory platitudes and the obligatory cautions about going too far, too fast. But, and this is the key, it acknowledges reality, and lays out a plan for addressing that reality instead of pining for the past. The report, Strategic Vision for a Clean Energy Future 2018 (which is available here), should be required reading for the Trump White House and the administration’s energy-related political appointees.

The forward-looking tone is evident from the outset, with Nicholas Akins, chairman, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP, writing: “We have diversified our generating portfolio to provide our customers with the clean energy solutions they are asking us for.” [Emphasis added] You could easily read right over this, but it’s worth digging into the details a bit.

Continue reading AEP Looks Forward, Beyond Coal, Trump Team Still Stuck In The Past

The Facts Tell The Story: Coal Comeback Is Nothing But A Trump Delusion

“Facts are stubborn things.”

John Adams, our second president, generally gets credit for this wonderful aphorism, but regardless of who was the first to say it, the observation itself is what matters: You simply cannot wish away facts. This came to mind earlier this week when I looked at the Energy Information Administration’s monthly electric power overview (which can be found here); it’s a publication that only the geekiest of energy wonks would ever read, particularly on a regular basis. However, dry as it may be, it does one thing exceedingly well: It presents facts, just as they are—not as people may want them to be.

One of the many such facts that caught my eye this month concerns electricity generation from coal, that shiny black rock that seems to be the moving force behind all the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies. ‘The war on coal is over,’ his minions mouth repeatedly. ‘We are going to bring the jobs back,’ the president assures miners at every opportunity.

Problem is, facts are stubborn things. In the EIA review, which covers the first nine months of 2017, coal-fired electricity generation fell compared to the comparable year-earlier period. To be fair, it didn’t drop by much, sliding 1.5 percent to 919,805 thousand megawatt-hours from 934,267 thousand mwh a year ago. However, if the war is over and the jobs are coming back, then there should have been no slide at all; indeed, there should have been an increase.

The slide in coal-fired generation also pushed coal production for the sector, which accounts for the vast majority of U.S. coal consumption, down during the first nine months. Overall, just over 504 million tons of coal were used to generate electricity, down from 509 million in 2016—which was the lowest production year for the industry since 1979. Hardly the turnaround the Trump administration repeatedly trumpets.

What the administration definitely doesn’t trumpet in its incessant tweets and coal-dominated decision-making, is that during this same nine-month period, generation from non-emitting wind and solar jumped 13.6 percent, climbing to 284,584 mwh from 250,482 mwh in 2016. Combined with hydro, renewables generated just over 525,000 mwh of electricity annually for the first nine months of the year, within hailing distance of the nation’s nuclear sector, which has generated just under 600,000 mwh so far this year.

And while the administration clearly is not a fan of renewables, more growth in this sector is just around the corner. The American Wind Energy Association says 84,000 MW of wind capacity are installed across the United States, with another 25,000 MW under construction. Similarly, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that 47,000 MW of solar capacity has been installed in the U.S., with another 21,000 MW of utility-scale solar generation currently in the construction pipeline.

As much as Trump and his backers like to blame renewables and the environmental community for the downfall of coal, the stubborn little fact is that the war, such as it was, against coal was waged, and won, by natural gas. From an expensive afterthought used largely just as a peaking resource during periods of high demand in the early 2000s, natural gas has taken ever-larger chunks of the electric generation market since then. From less than 20 percent of the total in 2001 (when coal’s share was roughly 50 percent), natural gas’ share of the market has climbed steadily, reaching 34 percent in 2016 and topping coal as the largest single source of electricity in the United States (see graphic below).

This transition, in turn, was due to another simple, stubborn fact: Huge quantities of formerly uneconomic gas supplies in the Mid-Atlantic and surrounding regions became accessible at affordable prices due to the commercialization of horizontal drilling and fracking technologies. As EIA noted earlier this year in one of its Today in Energy news stories (available here): “The increase in natural gas generation since 2005 is primarily a result of the continued cost-competitiveness of natural gas relative to coal.”

No war, no hidden agendas, just stubborn economic facts—obvious for anyone to see, provided, that is, they are willing to look.

–Dennis Wamsted


New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

The bright shiny package the coal industry unwrapped Christmas morning—the one it hoped was filled with rising and lasting demand for the black rock—is actually little more than a pretty box filled with empty promises delivered by the country’s new cheerleader in chief.

Just 10 years ago, coal was the clear top dog, accounting for just under 50 percent of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. (Coal’s total in 2006 was 48.9 percent, the last year it actually topped the 50 percent level was 2003.) This year, coal is likely to play second fiddle to the surging natural gas sector; the Energy Information Administration’s latest Short Term Energy Outlook (released Dec. 8) estimates that coal will account for 30.4 percent of the nation’s electric generation this year, below the 34.1 percent stake controlled by natural gas. And no amount of industry wishful thinking or presidential conceit is going to change that—the markets have changed.

Continue reading New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

Economics, Not Politics
 Is The Real Problem
 For U.S. Coal-Fired Fleet

Republican rhetoric about the Obama administration’s alleged ‘war on coal’ has been heated, and frequently repeated over the past eight years—but it’s wrong. The only war against coal is being waged by market forces, in the form of plentiful and cheap natural gas, low or stagnant electric demand growth, cleaner and ever-cheaper solar and wind, and finally being forced to pay the bill for years of environmental neglect. And the market forces—those same brutally efficient and unemotional market forces that Republicans so cherish in the abstract—are winning.

The Energy Information Administration reported earlier this month that more than 80 percent of the almost 18,000 megawatts of generating capacity retired in 2015 was coal-fired. At first blush (and certainly for the conspiracy-minded) that sounds implausible. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a much different story.

All told, 94 coal-fired units were retired in 2015, and as a group they were much smaller and older than the rest of the coal fleet. Specifically, EIA says the average age of the units retired in 2015 was 54, compared to 38 years for the plants still in operation. Similarly, the retired plants had an average net summer capacity of 133 MW, compared to 278 MW for the remaining coal fleet.

The EIA graphic below does a great job of visualizing the disparity between the two classes of plants.

EIACoalRetirements copy

Continue reading Economics, Not Politics
 Is The Real Problem
 For U.S. Coal-Fired Fleet