Still producing half of the United States’ electricity, the coal industry has been quietly watching as new types of generation join the fray; some say natural gas may be far less of a threat to coal than many would think.
The natural gas industry is going to have to start to deal with the same issues that coal has had to.
Director at American Coal Council Jason Hayes told Breaking Energy that despite the recent rush to natural gas and renewables, he is confident the coal industry will continue to generate at least 40% of the country’s power in the coming decades.
“The fact that we still have over two centuries of coal in the ground in the US,” he said, means the country has many years of reliable coal generation ahead.
“It’s a domestic resource that provides American jobs and still provides about 44% of our electricity. It’s not going anywhere and will be here producing clean, affordable, abundant energy certainly for decades,” Hayes said.
Natural Gas Faces Fracking Debate
Though natural gas has been presented as the clean alternative to coal for baseload power, concerns with possible groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” may soon have natural gas facing the same amount of regulatory yellow lights as coal, Hayes said.
“The natural gas industry is going to have to start to deal with the same issues that coal has had to,” said Hayes. “They may become a victim of their own success.”
Windy Days Still Ahead
Though wind power currently produces under 3% of the country’s electricity, on and offshore installations have been increasing.
Google has been investing in a 250-mile long offshore transmission line for wind turbines. Watch a video about the project: The Promise Of Offshore Wind.
Hayes said it is unlike the wind industry will reach its target of 20% by 2030. The number he said is based primarily on assumptions, one of which is that the smart meter will be fully implemented by the target date.
“Twenty percent is based on huge number of assumptions which may not all come true,” he said. “If any one of them doesn’t come true, than you can’t run that number of renewables.”
But in a recent Energy Collective webinar titled “Growing Wind Power: The Future of Wind and the Quest for Cleaner Energy,” four wind advocates said they were confidence in the industry’s ability to reach its target and level the playing field in terms of renewable energy sources.
Of the four, VP for Public Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association Peter L. Kelly expressed the greatest support for the industry claiming that if anything, 20% may be too small a target.
Read more about the webinar and the other opinions offered by the experts: Talking Twenty In Wind Power.
A Word From King Coal
Hayes predicts a stable future for the coal industry, it is not without obstacles. Coal has gained the reputation of a dirty fuel and, Hayes said, the public may therefore be hesitant to support the building of new plants.
A proposed Sunflower Electric Power Corp. coal plant in Topeka, Kansas caused local outcry today with opponents asking the Supreme Court to overturn the local Lawrence News 6 channel reported. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a permit for the $2.8 billion coal-fired plant in December.
But Hayes was insistent that coal was not the problem.
“The reality is our air is cleaner today than it was 30 years ago and this has happened at the same time we have increased our use of coal,” said Hayes. “The use of coal has more than doubled, almost tripled, over the past 50 years.”
For more context on the history of coal in the United States, read: King Coal.