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Wall Street Journal: Future of Coal in the U.S. Not Looking Good

2 min. read

We all know that clean energy is on the upswing in the United States, both in terms of employment and generation.  But what about the dirtiest of dirty energy - coal? The Wall Street Journal looks at that subject, and what it finds is not encouraging - if you're a fan of coal, that is.  A few problems include:

  • New EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants, combined with cheap natural gas, make it "almost unthinkable to build new coal-fired power plants–which account for more than 90% of U.S. coal consumption."
  • What about exporting U.S. coal? That doesn't look good either, in part because China has realized that its economic growth model is completely unsustainable - "unbalancing the economy and poisoning the environment" - prompting the Chinese government to start moving to cut coal use and increase energy efficiency.
  • At the same time, China's coal industry is becoming more productive and more competitive, also reducing the need for coal imports.
  • In addition, Australia's weak currency has made coal exports from that country more competitive vis-a-vis U.S. coal.
The bottom line: there appears to be little, if any, future for coal in the U.S., certainly not for power generation, and possibly not for export either.  Among fossil fuels for power generation, that leaves natural gas, which is booming (and cheap) right now, but that might prove to be a bubble due to a number of factors, including fracking's enormous water requirements.
But if coal's future is shaky at best, and natural gas is also questionable, what does that leave, you ask?  Fortunately, we have an answer: energy efficiency, solar, wind, and other forms of clean energy. As Stephen Lacey of Greentech Media explained the other day, "there are major improvements in the economics of renewables, electric vehicles and lighting that are accelerating an increasingly rapid shift in certain sectors." For instance, how about a 90 percent drop in the cost of wind power since the 1980s, and a continued decline in solar power costs ( down 99% since the late 1970s)? That sounds like a plan to us, especially when clean energy emits no greenhouse gases, doesn't melt down or spill, and is essentially an unlimited form of domestically-produced power - no reliance on OPEC required!