Editorial: Coal's fate is sealed; Trump can't change it
Right on cue, predictions of widespread death and environmental ruin sprang from the Trump administration’s decision this week to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. But the reality is that whether the rules stayed or went, coal power is on a downward spiral.
The economics of burning coal to produce electricity no longer make sense.
That’s why coal power production has been rapidly declining and was on the wane even before President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy in 2015 for making coal obsolete.
U.S. coal production declined to 713 billion tons in 2017, from 1.2 trillion tons in 2007. Coal today accounts for 30.7 percent of the nation’s energy portfolio, and was surpassed last year by natural gas (31 percent).
While the federal government estimates that coal will still provide 22 percent of the nation’s power by mid-century, industry projections put the figure at 16 percent or less.
The reason is simple: burning natural gas is cheaper — and cleaner.
New production techniques, including fracking, has made natural gas a less expensive and plentiful source of power.
So the nation’s major energy companies are replacing aging coal plants with modern gas facilities that not only save money, but emit much less pollution.
The new $1 billion gas plant planned by DTE in the Thumb should generate 50 to 60 percent less greenhouse gases than the coal-fired plant it replaces.
In addition, the cost of producing energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar are also dropping.
Four of the nation’s top 16 utility companies have no coal burning plants, and another seven have set a timetable for replacing coal facilities with natural gas and renewable energy sources.
Power companies are investing billions to convert from coal to cleaner sources of energy.
They are not going to reverse those investments simply because President Donald Trump will now allow states to set policy on energy production. They’re too far down the road, and the risk is too high that a new administration will change course on coal policy yet again.
Coal is no longer competitive in the marketplace.
And that is a more certain factor in its ultimate demise than any regulations Washington could produce.
Trump can’t save coal or the jobs of coal miners with a stroke of his pen. Energy economics have already decided coal’s fate.