As the nation’s transition to renewable energy gains speed, with the rapid deployment of wind and solar power and grid-scale batteries, a misguided idea is taking hold. There’s no longer any need for coal generation and coal mining in the United States.
There are major benefits from electricity produced at coal plants and mining.
Coal will remain critically important as we usher in our energy future and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Coal is more reliable and free of the intermittency risks that renewables have. In fact, premature efforts to push coal aside not only threaten severe economic damage in coal states but also jeopardize much of the Biden administration’s domestic agenda.
Think about the extraordinary importance of metallurgical coal to steel production — steel is essential in building infrastructure and undergirding the energy technologies for tomorrow’s electricity grid.
Worldwide, 70 percent of steel is manufactured with metallurgical coal, known as met coal. In the United States, more than 170 met mines support 11,000 direct jobs — and the mines will be critically important in manufacturing steel, the world’s essential building material.
Steel delivers benefits that are widely valued. Enormous amounts of steel will be required because of the passage of the climate bill — steel for new roads, bridges, port infrastructure and even the hundreds of thousands of electric vehicle chargers that will be installed.
The climate bill is conservatively expected to generate $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, boosting domestic steel demand by an additional 6 million tons annually. While the construction of bridges and pipelines will account for most of the demand, the increasing deployment of wind and solar capacity — and the transmission infrastructure needed to move it on the nation’s grid — will also require a lot of steel.
Consider that just one high-voltage transmission tower needs about 40,000 to 60,000 pounds of steel. Each new megawatt of solar power needs between 35 to 45 tons of steel and each new megawatt of wind power requires 120 to 180 tons of steel, with massive offshore wind turbines needing even more.
As more renewable power is added to the electricity grid, coal plants — which provide 20 percent of the nation’s power and are the leading source of electricity in 15 states — will play a crucial role in safeguarding energy reliability.
Although renewables are being added with the expectation they’ll be able to increase systemwide generating capacity — they won’t even come close to providing the power needed to ensure a secure and reliable supply of energy. Consider what happened to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) electricity market, which covers much of the Midwest. Despite installed generating capacity increasing by more than 4,200 MW over the last five years, accredited generating capacity — that is, capacity that can be counted on to perform when needed — has fallen by 8,300 MW because intermittent sources of power have been unable to fill the gaps left by premature and ill-advised coal retirements. While total generating capacity rose, MISO now has a gaping power supply shortfall during periods of peak demand.
The nation desperately needs a hefty dose of energy policy pragmatism. A good start would be to place a hold on systemwide coal regulations. The reason? Using wind, solar and natural gas as the primary sources of the nation’s energy supply remains more promising than performance. Without coal, we would not have enough electricity for our homes and businesses. To underpin grid reliability, coal must be part of a diverse mix of dispatchable fuels capable of providing a bridge to the future until renewables can supply enough power to meet electricity demand.
The importance of coal cannot be overemphasized. It would be a shameful waste of money and put that much more strain on the economy if coal plants and steel mills were forced to close for lack of fuel. The consequences wouldn’t be small. Billions of investment dollars could be gone in an instant. And the economic impact would be huge.
The time to stop talking and start acting responsibly is running short.
2 thoughts on “Opinion: Why Coal Is Necessary – Inside Sources”
Today’s coal was the Dinosaur’s vegetable fern lunch millions of years ago. The clean burning of todays coal fired electrical utility is still very necessary as wind and solar do not work constantly to provide power requiring gas turbines to be running all the time as “back up”. This is inefficient.
Nuclear is CO2 free but for some reason the Marxist left does not like nuclear; perhaps because it would keep the productive West ; productive.
Coal, particularly anthracite, is necessary to make coke for steel production. Again the radical left wants coal black listed and eliminated for a variety of reasons including damaging the earth in its removal. What about the billions of tons of earth damaged mining for materials to make batteries for RV?
Silence. Going green is a farce promoted by Marxist determined to destroy Western civilization and replace it with a New World Order you won’t like.
With all of the talk about eliminating coal as an energy source nobody mentions the elephant in the room … China. In 2021 China consumed 3.88 BILLION tons of coal according to the International Energy Agency. For some reason, China gets a pass when it comes to coal consumption. The United States, by comparison, consumed only 488 million tons of coal in 2021.
In a Newsweek article by Joel Kotkin (Environmentalists Are China’s Useful Idiots | Opinion) he states:
“In his drive to achieve absolute power, Vladimir Lenin could count on Western progressives and opportunist executives to serve as ‘useful idiots.’ Today’s most prominent Communist, China’s Xi Jinping, can count on similar help, this time from the West’s environmentalist, corporate elites.”
Joel goes on to state:
“Nowhere is this clearer than in the alliance of green non-profits and their oligarchic backers, whose demands for a quick evolution toward ‘net zero’ emissions are quickly undermining the last vestiges of Western competitiveness. And the winner in this ‘energy transition’ is China, which, oddly enough, produces more greenhouse gases than the entire developed world put together.”
It makes no sense to talk about reducing coal consumption without bringing the world’s number one coal consumer by far, China, into the discussion. Any reductions in American coal production will have a negligible effect on the environment while China continues its unabated use of coal and becomes stronger both economically and militarily. In the words of Joel Kotkin, “China has maneuvered itself into an enviable position of doing as it pleases while its biggest competitors unilaterally disarm.”