President Donald wants to revive America’s coal industry. He says regulations, most notably from the Environmental Protection Agency, have forced coal plants to close. So he wants to do away with those damn unfriendly regulations (such as the mercury and air toxics standards, the proposed cross-state pollution standard and the proposed limitations of carbon dioxide emissions). After that, Appalachian coal will again be riven from the earth, reviving the industry.
Nope. Won’t happen. Coal lost. Natural gas, thanks to fracking, won.
Coal plants are old; their median age is 44 years old. More than 90 percent of coal plants were built in the 1980s or earlier. Those comprise 697 of the total 765 utility-level coal plants. In 2015, utilities closed 94 coal-fired generating plants with a capacity of more than 13,000 megawatts. Their average age at retirement was 58 years old. 2016 will see more than 5,000 megawatts of capacity closed at 41 coal plants.
No problem, President “Last Shot for Miners” Donald might suggest. Cut regulations. Reopen mines to let the coal flow. Build more plants to burn coal.
Utility industry executives aren’t that stupid. Building a new 600-megawatt, coal-fired power plant would cost $2 billion. Such a plant could take four to six years to permit and construct. No executive would promote spending that much money over that much time for a plant with a design lifetime of half a century.
That’s because anything President Donald does (even if he serves two terms) to promote coal use by American utilities could be undone at the stroke of a pen by a new president with a different view of energy policy.
But no problem, President Donald might argue. Export American coal! That’d bring the mines back! Coal rules! Economic boost to Appalachia and Wyoming!
No, not really.
The United States remains a net exporter of coal. But in 2015, coal exports fell for the third consecutive year. The world uses less coal, so global coal prices are down. Other countries export coal with lesser mining costs, cheaper transportation, and favorable exchange rates. U.S. coal producers are now at a global disadvantage.
American energy consumers have voted against coal with their money. Wind and solar have made substantial inroads in producing electricity. Solar panel prices have become competitive.
So President Donald will not revive the American coal industry. But he promised hard-luck coal miners and their families in Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania he’d bring their jobs back.
Instead of yelling “Put her in jail!” at President Donald’s rallies, perhaps those miners ought to have shouted, “How, Donald?”