From China to Charleston, the News for Coal is Bad

October 29, 2015

Washington Post:

China, the world’s biggest user of coal, is suddenly burning less of it, a change with enormous implications for the state of the atmosphere and the potential course of global climate change.

The shift has been both abrupt and unexpected, bringing fresh credibility to China’s pledge to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions, now also the highest level in the world. Blamed in the West for the failure of the last global climate change talks, in Copenhagen in 2009, China is setting itself up to play a constructive role at the next round of discussions, in Paris later this year.

As recently as 2010, China added as much coal-fired electricity generation capacity in a single year as exists in all of Germany. It took China’s slowing economy, a slump in heavy industry and unprecedented moves by the Communist Party to curb choking levels of air pollution to produce the drop-off in coal consumption, which began in 2014 and has continued this year.

Still, the idea that China might be transformed from the world’s smoke-belching factory into a cleaner, more high-tech place remains a distant prospect — even with the advent of a new cap-and-trade system that President Xi Jinping has promised to put in place by 2017.

“I was traditionally, honestly extraordinarily pessimistic about all this, if you had asked me two or three years ago,” said Mikkal Herberg, director of the Energy Security Program at the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research. “It is only in the last year or two that I have actually begun to believe they can do some of the things they are promising to do.”

Charleston Gazette (W. Virginia):

ROANOKE — Coal consumption is not likely to increase, regardless of whether new federal regulations on power plants go into effect, and, from coal’s perspective, the national debate on coal and climate change has largely been lost, the president of West Virginia’s largest electric utility told a roomful of energy executives Tuesday.

coalpovertysmallThe Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, would cut coal consumption — but even if the regulations are blocked, coal consumption will not increase, Appalachian Power President Charles Patton said at the state Energy Summit at the Stonewall Resort.

“You just can’t go with new coal [plants] at this point in time,” Patton said. “It is just not economically feasible to do so.”

Patton acknowledged that entire communities, particularly across Southern West Virginia, are being decimated by coal’s decline. However, he laid out a series of stark economic realities.

By 2026, Patton said, Appalachian Power expects its use of coal power to be down 26 percent, with or without the Clean Power Plan.

That’s because of cheaper alternatives and already-imposed environmental regulations that make coal uncompetitive, Patton said.

The cost of natural gas electricity, including construction of power plants and infrastructure, is about $73 per megawatt hour, Patton said. For a conventional coal plant, it’s $95 per megawatt hour.

Even wind power, which is less dependable than coal, is still significantly cheaper, at $73 per megawatt hour, when a longstanding tax credit for wind energy production is factored in.

An advanced coal power plant, with carbon capture and storage to lower emissions, costs nearly twice as much, at $144 per megawatt hour, Patton said.

“With or without the Clean Power Plan, the economics of alternatives to fossil-based fuels are making inroads in the utility plan,” Patton said. “Companies are making decisions today where they are moving away from coal-fired generation.”

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3 Responses to “From China to Charleston, the News for Coal is Bad”

  1. earlosatrun Says:

    Thanks for the acid rain, guys. Don’t think I’ve not forgotten that too.

    It wasn’t just the CO2 that killed your industry.

  2. Says:

    Nice report. Thanks

  3. andrewfez Says:

    Meanwhile in Los Angeles, were starting to get hit with ‘Go Solar’ adverts on large billboards that are normally reserved for large budget movies. I saw one by SunPower the other day near the mall, and another several blocks down from where I live that said, ‘A solar panel set the size of this billboard can make 170 hours of electricity for your home using one day’s worth of sunlight,’ or something along those lines. Classical KUSC is now mentioning SunPower as a sponsor of the station. Earlier this year, the lady pushing Solar City leasing at Home Depot followed me around the store, trying to aggressively sell me solar panels.

    When you drive down the highway towards Beckley from Charleston, WV, the only billboard they have that’s conspicuous is one that says something about evolution being a hoax, and prompts viewers to call some number to speak with a church representative.

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