Market research: Utilities are planning for less coal usage in the long term
Analysts at Morningstar, the investment-research firm, say the U.S. coal industry faces further declines as utilities adopt long-term plans focusing on broader uptake of other forms of generation. “Cheap natural gas, sluggish power demand, growing renewable energy, and emissions regulations will all continue to crowd out coal as U.S. utilities use more natural gas and renewables for electricity generation through 2025,” write the authors.
Report: Half of remaining coal fleet could close by 2030
A report by Rhodium Group, a research firm that specializes in economics and public policy, concludes that market forces will likely continue to undermine efforts to revitalize U.S. coal-fired electricity generation. The report says projections by the Energy Information Administration that the sector will continue to shrink actually understate the trend and that even under “the most favorable outcome for coal” the industry over the next decade or so will likely fall to “levels last seen in the early 1980s."
West Virginia University study sees no regional coal production improvement
A study published by West Virginia University’s Bureau for Business and Economic Research sees falling domestic demand for regionally produced coal. It also raises questions about whether export markets will hold up. “Both of the state’s producing regions will be hurt by weakening domestic demand, but Northern West Virginia faces greater market risk since most of the region’s coal is consumed by U.S. power plants,” one of the report’s authors said. “Southern West Virginia’s production should be buoyed to some extent by export demand, but output is expected to trend lower during the outlook as a growing portion of the region’s reserves become too expensive to recover.”
New norm sets in among Powder River Basin coal producers
Unpredictability is the “new norm” in coal production across the Powder River Basin of Wyoming as spot market prices replace long-term contracts and as more coal-fired power plants close nationally. Twelve mines in the basin account for about 40 percent of the receding U.S. thermal coal market. “Obviously there are some long-term hurdles to overcome when your country is not building any new coal-fired power plants,” said the executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.
Employee buyouts at North Dakota coal-gasification plant
“Amid a plummeting financial outlook,” Basin Electric Power Cooperative, whose subsidiary Dakota Gasification Co. operates the struggling Great Plains Synfuels Plant in west-central North Dakota, is offering buyouts to more than 300 people. The plant, which turns coal into synthetic natural gas, is having trouble making ends meet because it cannot compete with cheap natural gas produced by Bakken oil field frackers. “Markets have been changing so fast it was time to take additional steps,” a company spokesman said.
Another blow to Appalachia: Expensive electricity
While the coal-based economies of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia continue to decline, the region’s electricity rates are soaring as utilities spread costs among fewer customers. Ratepayers are essentially subsidizing companies like Kentucky Power to keep outdated plants online and to clean up after those that have been retired. “They are charging us for shutting down our coal-fired plants that were keeping us all employed," said Angie Hatton, a Kentucky legislator.
Plans for a new Colorado energy economy
Plans by Xcel Energy to remake the electricity-generation industry in and around Pueblo, Colo., are being seen as a harbinger of a new energy economy. The company is seeking to close two of three coal-fired power plants in Pueblo and replace them with wind and solar facilities, a change that would create a net total of more than 50 jobs. The county, which has a population of about 165,000 and is strategically situated near major power transmission lines, is “poised to become the renewable energy hub for Colorado and likely the region,” said its director of economic development.
Op-ed: Why clean energy jobs ‘continue to pop up’
A former mayor and city council member who now leads a nonpartisan national group that champions market-based economic-transition solutions, endorses a proposed solar farm in Mendon Township, Mich. The $29 million, 150-acre project would generate more than $20,000 in monthly local tax revenue over 23 years. “Renewable energy developments provide significant benefits to local communities. That’s why jobs in the clean energy industry and new solar developments continue to pop up across the state.”
Large new philanthropic fund responds to coal country transitions
Nonprofit Quarterly profiles the work of the Just Transition Fund and the diverse set of strategies in which it is investing.
Report: A proper Colstrip cleanup would create new jobs
Community activists in Colstrip, Mont., are urging the corporate owner of Colstrip Power Plant to invest in the excavation and removal of its coal-ash ponds once two of the plant’s three electricity-generating units shut down in 2022. A report by the Northern Plains Resource Council concludes that such a reclamation initiative would help sustain the town’s declining economy. “Doing a thorough cleanup now will employ more people, make the land more attractive to businesses and industries looking to come to Colstrip and potentially will keep taxpayers from footing the bill.”