How long have we worked against the coal industry? How many times have we said that there is no viable option for climate solutions that involve burning one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth?
Coal-fired electric power generation produces 2,000 pounds of atmospheric CO2 for every megawatt of power generated; by comparison natural gas produces 1,100.
Coal produces more particulate emissions in ground-level air than any other power source. Coal also puts a hell of a lot more things in the air then CO2. Things like Mercury, Uranium, Fly Ash, Sulfur Dioxide (which quickly forms into Hyposulfurous Acid), Arsenic, and Selenium are all pollutants that naturally occur in coal.
Enough… you don’t need me to list off all the things that are bad about coal. Not on this blog. Not in 2013.
That’s not what I want to write about anyway. I hate apocalyptic environmentalists. We have a grave crisis on our hands but we do NOT need to be brow-beaten over and over about how we’re all going to die and there is nothing we can do.
The fact is that on this one particular front, with this one key contributor to global warming and environmental pollution, we are WINNING.
In January of 2008 coal was trading at close to $140 per ton (or “short ton” which is the term the industry uses to differentiate from the British 2240lb “long ton”). Right now it’s at $53.54/short ton. That hurts. A lot.
As much as the Right-wing Nutosphere wants to rant and rave about Obama’s left-wing regulatory “War on Coal” agenda what’s really driving this is the plummeting price of Natural Gas.
Coal is not easy to produce. It has to be mined and trucked from remote locations. Its messy, dirty, heavy, expensive and slow. With an abundance of cheap natural gas and a boom alternative market, coal is running out of options to compete and the markets are moving. …and they are doing so in an accelerated pace.
Meteor Blades had an article last month marking the 150th plant closure since 2010, and it happened to be the Brayton Point plant in Massachusetts, which is one of the single worst polluters in the country.
But since then we’ve only seen more and more bad news roll in for the Coal Industry.
Just this week the Tennessee Valley Authority announced that it is closing 8 more coal plants in Alabama and Kentucky, including all 5 coal units in the notorious Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscumbia, AL.
The last date I could find numbers for Colbert was 2006. That year this power plant alone put 8,312,926 TONS of Carbon Dioxide and 40,000 tons of Sulfur Dioxide into the air. It is now on a path to be producing ZERO. The announcement was made this week, but it will take months or years to actually get these units turned off.
Let’s look instead at Pennsylvania.
The Mitchell Power Plant and Hatfields Ferry Power Station in Courtney and Masontown, PA respectively are now closed. As in OFF. As in SILENT. Mitchell consumed only 430,000 tons of coal per year for its single coal unit; Hatfields on the other hand devoured 4 MILLION tons of coal every year. They are now consuming ZERO. [In 2006 Hatfield emitted 9,139,990 tons of CO2]. And as of October 9th of this year it is now emitting NOTHING.
So if this many plants are no longer burning it, why don’t we stop mining it and just leave it in the ground? Well….. we are!
In September, US coal producer James River Coal Company idled half of its Central Appalachian mines. These were mines that had actively produced 3.7 MILLION tons of coal in 2012 and are now producing ZERO. In November, the company had to announce that they were immediately closing four more mines in Kentucky. These four mines in the Buckeye Complex in Eastern Kentucky had already produced 1 million tons in the first nine months of 2013 and are now producing ZERO.
By the way, James River Coal Company’s stock broke $25/share in 2011. Today it’s trading at $1.34.
Patriot Coal Corporation also shut down its mine complex in Logan County West Virginia back in September. Oh and Patriot Coal has been in bankruptcy since mid-2012 and is just now seeking court approval to emerge which would explain why its stock is hovering around $0.09/share.
Arch Coal is one of the largest coal producers in the world. They shut down four mines back in June resulting in a loss of 3 MILLION tons of coal production. In March 2011, Arch Coal Inc (NYSE:ACI) traded in the low to mid $30’s; today their stock is $4.19/share.
Consol Energy is getting out of coal where it can. It dumped five of its most automated hi-tech mines off to Murray Energy so it can focus on Natural Gas.
Frasure Creek, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal put on a good show back in 2012 when they started not being able to pay bills and was lining up their equipment for auction. Here is an interesting pair of headlines:
Frasure Creek Coal says bankruptcy not in company’s plans - August 27, 2012This is rippling out to every sector of the market. The huge trucks used to haul coal are made by Caterpillar in a plant in Virginia. Caterpillar announced Monday that the plant is closing.
Frasure Creek parent company forced into bankruptcy -- March 11, 2013
But isn’t this just market churn? Old plants go down, new plants start up. Old mines close, new mines are dug. That kind of thing, right? Wrong.
The Sierra Club is pleased to report that 179 proposed coal plants have been canceled. And the industry is conceding that the new EPA rules for applying for new permits make coal almost impossible. Naturally the Republicans response to this is to try to get the EPA rules rolled back so we can burn, baby, burn!
Also, Obama is setting policy rules to making clear that US funds via entities like the World Bank and IMF are not going to be used to back new coal plants anywhere in the world.
So the coal industry has nowhere to go but down. China is still propping it up quite a bit, so I’m not declaring any kind of total victory yet but things are really moving in a much cleaner direction.
In that vein, and to end on a positive note, Clean Line Energy Partners is planning a $2 billion HVDC (High voltage direct current) across several states to replace this retiring fossil fuel generation with new wind-powered energy.
They released this statement last week (PDF File):
HOUSTON (November 7, 2013) – Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC (Grain Belt Express Clean Line), an affiliate of Clean Line Energy Partners LLC (Clean Line) of Houston, Texas, is pleased to announce that the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) unanimously approved an Order granting a siting permit to Grain Belt Express Clean Line to construct the 370-mile Kansas portion of a new 750-mile direct current transmission line. The line will originate near Dodge City, Kansas and traverse north and east to the Kansas–Missouri border. The Grain Belt Express Clean Line will deliver low-cost, wind energy from western Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and states farther east that have strong demand for affordable, reliable, clean energy.
Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 4:37 AM PT: More news yesterday: The UK formally announces that they will join the US in making sure their money was not used to fund new coal projects around the world. The only very rare exceptions would be extremely poor countries where there is no other options or where the proposal was coupled with cutting-edge Carbon-Capturing Sequestration technology.