Let’s not end up on wrong side of ‘war on coal’

Many declared the so-called “war on coal” over more than two years ago.
But despite efforts by the Trump administration to end its losses and reinforce the coal industry, its retreat looks  irreversible. And last week, the federal Energy Information Agency (EIA) announced the percentage of coal-fired generation in the electricity grid will only continue to decline.
Accounting for at least 40% of the nation’s power this summer, gas-fired generation continues to make gains and remains the fuel of choice.
Meanwhile, renewables, including solar, wind and hydropower are expected to fill much of the gap left by coal’s decline. Nuclear power, which supplies  19% of the nation’s electricity, is expected to remain at that level, while renewables will produce  18% this year, rising to about 20% next year.
Undoubtedly, many still have concerns about the reliability and flexibility of renewables to meet the demands of the  grid. However, like any  great transition to a new resource or technology,  many will have reservations and invariably there will be trade-offs.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago our newspaper’s introduction to the internet caused us concerns ranging from security and accuracy to dependability and access.
Today, the rapidly advancing digitization of the newspaper industry has proven it’s no fad and all but for  minor glitches its soundness is indisputable.
But such enormous transformations in  industries don’t just happen because  of whimsy,  age demographics or promotions. They happen because of economics.
When a business or a consumer is faced with paying 3% more or 12% less than a year ago for practically anything the choice is obvious. Those numbers actually reflect what utilities will  pay this summer for coal and natural gas, respectively, according to the EIA.
Only one state (Montana) of the nation’s 10 top coal states actually saw an increase in production this year while coal-fired power plants continue to close faster than ever. And beyond the unprofitable bottom-line coal presents, issues of health and the environment are not going to go away.
The final word in this report is that the demand for coal will continue to fall in 2020.
Yes, political promises, further R&D, easing regulations at power plants and mines, and exports will extend coal’s ability to fight another day.
But wars of attrition are usually won by the side with greater such resources.
Natural gas reserves will probably outlast almost all of us and renewables are clearly limitless.
The best thing we can do now is to make sure we don’t end up on the wrong side.

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