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2020 Brought More Job Loss and Bankruptcies for Coal Communities
8,000 coal workers lost their jobs in the last year, and five coal companies have gone bankrupt in the past five months.
Opinion: President-Elect Biden Must Prioritize Coal Communities—And Here’s How
“Solving this problem of large numbers of people at risk of being left behind in the transition to a clean energy economy is not just the right thing to do for people and families who have sacrificed for generations to keep the lights on—it is a necessary set of investments to ensure that the federal climate solutions we have been fighting for will be durable over time.”
Mayors Release “Marshall Plan for Middle America”
The $60 billion plan—developed by mayors from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia—calls for increased federal investment in clean energy-based economic and workforce development to help heartland communities dependent on fossil fuel industries.
Opinion: Securitization A Useful Financing Tool for Transition From Coal
Securitization and other financing tools can help ease the energy transition for states and utilities, but they must be designed to address worker and community needs.
Young People Discuss the Path Forward for Their Coal-Impacted Communities
“I want to stay. I just love it here. I don’t know what living here is going to look like or how I’m going to provide income for myself and my family...But I just love the area even though we’re on such a downhill when it comes to [things] economically.”
Report Shows Potential of Coal Mine Cleanup in the West
A new report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils estimates that reclamation activities could create over 6,000 full-time jobs in Western states and provides recommendations for policymakers.
Opinion: Coal Miners Helped Shape America’s Labor Landscape. Their Industry is Fading, but that History is Worth Remembering.
“Their sweat and blood provided the ‘black gold’ that built this country’s industrial base and paved the way for many of the benefits Americans now take for granted such as an eight-hour workday, health insurance, safer workplaces and pensions for those who are still lucky enough to get them.”
Germany’s Lessons for the U.S. Coal Transition
Despite challenges of its own, the country’s approach to phasing out coal is a useful guide to how the United States can ensure a just transition for workers and communities.
Report Outlines Benefits of Environmental and Infrastructure Spending for Communities in Transition
The second report in a just transition policy series analyzes the economic impacts of federal programs for environmental remediation and infrastructure.
Coal Country Confronts Industry’s Future, Sees Solutions in Policy
As coal continues to decline, communities from West Virginia to Wyoming see a need for state and federal policy support.
Op-Ed: To Fight Climate Change, Strand Fossil Fuel Assets, Not Workers
“A national just transition policy that drives unprecedented public investment into fossil fuel-dependent communities is a moral imperative. It is also a political one if we hope to take ambitious climate action.”
Coal Country Envisions Paths Forward in Manufacturing, Reclamation, and Renewables
Communities in West Virginia and Wyoming are developing diverse industries based on their local strengths.
Report Finds High Job Creation Potential for Reclaiming the West’s Coal Mines
The Western Organization of Resource Councils estimates that coal mine reclamation “could generate approximately 4,893 to 9,786 job-years” across four western states.
Coal sites are being repurposed nationally as going concerns
Data centers and logistic hubs are finding new homes in old digs: “The stress on coalfield communities created by the transition underway in the U.S. electricity industry and globally need not be a one-way street to nowhere.”
Latest federal government outlook: Coal production will hit 40-year low in 2019
The Energy Information Administration has U.S. coal production dropping by almost 8 percent this year to a record low, according to a data set the agency began compiling in 1978.
Advocates push for inclusion of coal workers in Green New Deal
As debate builds around the Green New Deal, one question on the table revolves around potential federal legislation that would help former coal miners get back on their feet.
Analysis: Green New Deal is ‘an economic document at heart’
“This is an economic document at its heart, one that forecasts how the economy is going to need to change and establishing a path for fixing many of the problems that have accompanied past economic transitions.”
No mention of coal in State of the Union speech
“While Trump reiterated his support of the industry during last year’s address, pushing the benefits of ‘beautiful, clean coal,’ he notably failed to mention the energy source once this year.”
Commentary: ‘The gathering solar wave’
Coal is being abandoned state by state for more economical electricity generation, including “in the heart of traditional fossil-fuel bastions where energy sensibilities are sometimes erroneously stereotyped as ‘anti-renewable.’”
CloudPeak, third-biggest U.S. coal producer, is on the ropes
The third-biggest U.S. coal company has become a penny stock. "I think that they survive, but how long they can at current conditions, it's hard to say,” one industry expert said.
Commentary: ‘A recovery in domestic coal demand is not likely’
"Working to ameliorate these impacts in affected communities is likely to be a much more effective strategy than attempting to revive the coal industry with policy,” writes the author.
Coal plant trend accelerates under Trump
According to government data, more than 10 gigawatts of coal-fired power generation have shut down over the past two years in a trend that has accelerated since the Obama years.
‘Very little upside’ seen in U.S. coal past 2018
Another difficult year for the American coal industry suggests more to come as old plants are retired and replaced by cleaner, cheaper generation. “There’s very little upside,” one analyst said.
Lowest annual American coal consumption in 39 years
“Competition from increasingly abundant and affordable natural gas and renewable energy” will drive coal-plant retirements in 2018 as market forces prevail and as further coal-consumption declines are seen in 2019.
Calls in congress for a national ‘New Green Deal’
Newly-elected members of Congress are calling for aggressive federal investment in job-creating initiatives that include energy efficiency and weatherization programs, wetlands and soil restoration, sustainable agriculture and renewables-based grid modernization.
Coal industry falters in quest for workable carbon-capture technology
Costly initiatives to develop workable, economic technology to capture carbon from coal-fired generation have come up short as renewable energy and natural gas have made such work all but irrelevant.
Why coalfield workers are at risk in the short term as well as the long
Commentary: “Coal communities are caught between maintaining the status quo or making a hard shift to a different future. That kind of shift has not always been good for workers.”
No gains seen in coal jobs or production
An energy trade journal reports that the U.S. coal industry continues to struggle in the face of market shifts that favor other fuel sources: “Coal volume and coal jobs have remained fairly flat over the past two years as strong export markets have been offset by an ongoing structural decline in domestic demand.”
In campaign to preserve coal pensions, union shifts political giving to Democrats
The United Mine Workers of America has directed more than 84 percent of its campaign giving to Democratic candidates this election cycle, a sharp increase from 2016, when more donations went to Republicans. “The ‘war on coal’ narrative is basically over,” said a West Virginia political scientist. “Now the things that people are concerned about are health care and pensions ... these are the overwhelming issues that dominate their lives.”
Report: 2018 will be a record year for coal-plant closures
A study of U.S. coal markets concludes that 2018 will set a record for permanent shutdown of coal-fired plants nationally. States with sizeable closures on the horizon include Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. “The competitive environment for coal-fired power in the generation marketplace is becoming ever more challenging as the price of renewables continues to fall and as natural gas prices are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future,” the author said.
Utility exec: No more ‘false promises’ to stricken communities
The CEO of Exlon Energy Corp., one of the biggest players in U.S. electricity markets, is calling for broader acceptance of market changes that are making coal—and to a lesser extent natural gas and oil—increasingly uneconomic. "We can't make false promises to parts of the country that we're going to make fossil fuel cool again,” Chris Crane said. “We have to worry about what this is going to do to the whole country.”
Poll: Rural residents have hope, and are betting on diversification
Residents of small communities across the U.S. rank financial concerns as their No. 1 worry, according to a national poll that finds workers placing their job hopes heavily in computer and technical-skills training. Attachment to community and place are also driving generational support for local development and more diversification. “Rural Americans are optimistic about the future, and they're also optimistic that things can be done to pull them out of the economic problems that they do face,” said one of the authors of a report on the poll.
Resistance from oil and gas industry puts coal bailout plant on hold
Opposition across much of the competitive energy industry to a Trump administration initiative to subsidize coal-fired electricity plants appears to have effectively killed the plan. “The problem they’ve got is every option they might consider raises the costs for somebody at a time when nobody has an appetite for increased costs anywhere,” one analyst said. “The political will to pay for it is not broadly there enough yet for them.”
Analysis: ‘Downtrend in coal consumption will continue’
Coal consumption last year by U.S. power producers hit its lowest mark since 1983 as coal’s market share of power generation fell to 30 percent from a peak of 57 percent in 1988. One analysts sees the trend as irreversible as utilities abandon coal for natural gas and renewables: “Unless the federal government steps in to ensure coal-fired power plants run, even when they are more expensive than natural gas, the downtrend in coal consumption will continue.”
U.S. utility-scale solar power activity is surging
Trump administration tariffs meant to curb expansion of the U.S. solar energy have proven ineffective, concludes a report published this week by the Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables research group and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The two groups estimate that deals for 8.6 gigawatts of new utility-scale solar were made in the first half of the year—enough capacity to power 1.4 million homes—and said solar industry’s expansion would continue.
Survey: Deep reluctance across power-generation industry to reinvest in coal
A survey of utility industry executives reveals an industrywide reluctance to keep aging coal plants alive or to invest further in coal-fired power generation. "We will continue to focus on retiring older, less-efficient, coal-fueled units; building advanced-technology natural gas units; and investing in cost-effective, zero-carbon renewable generation,” said one utility representative in a comment that was typical of responses nationally.
Op-ed: There are better ways to spend $34 billion
Dedicating $34 billion toward a bailout of outdated modes of electricity generation isn’t in the best national interest, and federal money would be far better spent on grid cybersecurity and modernization. “Consider what else can be done with the taxpayer dollars DOE proposes the government spend to subsidize failing coal and nuclear plants,” writes the author.
Op-ed: Momentum favors renewables
Cost, energy security, environmental concerns and public health are among the reasons cleaner forms of energy are gaining on coal. Technology companies are a force as well. “The five largest publicly-traded companies in the world—Apple, Amazon, Google’s Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook—all have corporate commitments to use 100 percent renewable energy and at least three of them have already hit those ambitious targets,” writes the author. “The eighth largest, Berkshire-Hathaway, owns one of the country’s largest utility wind and solar portfolios and is aggressively developing more renewable energy projects.”
Dwindling number of states rely primarily on coal
New research by the Energy Information Administration finds that only 18 states got more than half of their electricity from coal-powered generation in 2017, down from 28 in 2007. Nationally, natural gas accounted for 32 percent of power generation as coal’s share of the market dropped to 30 percent. “These changes have occurred as coal-fired power plants have retired or been used less and as natural gas-fired power plants have been built and used more nationwide,” the agency said.
Xcel executive: Economics are driving power-generation shift
Three forces are driving a national shift from coal to other forms of power generation, says an executive for Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based company that provides electricity to almost for million customers through subsidiaries in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin. “It fundamentally comes down to economics,” said Jonathan Adelman, an Xcel vice president. “The secondary driver is customer expectations. Lastly, policy both at a state and federal level.”
U.S. power-generation industry ignores federal government efforts to save coal
Utility heavyweights that include American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Southern Company and Xcel Energy continue to invest heavily in a move away from coal-fired electricity generation. Executives at such companies say the trend will continue, regardless of recent federal policy moves to thwart it. “Reducing reliance on coal, leveraging cleaner natural gas energy and expanding renewables on our system is part of our long-term investment strategy to continue to drive carbon out of our system,” said a spokesman for Duke.
Utility executive urges West Virginians to look beyond coal
A regional executive for Dominion Energy, one of the biggest investor-owned utility companies in the country, told the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce this week that the state would do well to look beyond coal as an economic mainstay. Dominion, headquartered in Virginia, has six million customers nationally. “For years, coal was the base of everything we did,” said Bob Orndorff, a state policy director for the company. “It still has a role, but we need to talk about wind. We need to talk about solar, because the Procter & Gambles of the world want that.”
Op-ed: Modernization is the ticket to national energy security
The U.S. electricity grid needs updating, and the best path forward is toward modernization built around new sources of energy, better transmission systems, and improved cyber-security. “A more distributed energy grid, with thousands of energy generation and storage sources, will be inherently more difficult to disrupt than one built around large centralized power plants,” the authors write.
‘Trump’s new pollution rules won’t save the coal industry’
As President Trump spoke in West Virginia this week about “putting our great coal miners back to work,” his initiatives to resurrect the declining industry are falling flat. The federal Energy Information Administration’s own data shows coal-fired power generation being “crushed” by natural gas and renewables. “This is like throwing a few snowballs into a blizzard,” one industry expert said. “You might see a plant here or a plant there that benefits from the new rules. But we’re talking about very minor changes compared with the significant gap between the cost of coal and the cost of natural gas.”
Utilities’ transition away from coal is seen as lasting
“Powerful economic forces that have been pummeling the sector for years” will continue to undermine the coal industry, as analysts agree that the trend is not likely to be reversed by Trump administration policies. Utility companies, for the most part, have decided to move on. “Our strategy going forward is really focused on investment in renewables, natural gas, and other advanced technologies, including battery technology and modernizing the grid, and that strategy doesn’t really change,” said a spokesman for American Electric Power, which has over five million customers in 11 states.
Regulatory rollback on emissions unlikely to reverse decline of coal industry
A regulatory rollback proposed by the Trump administration to ease emission rules on coal-fired electricity plants is being seen as unlikely to have much effect on the declining viability of the industry. Market forces will most likely prevail, and legal challenges to the planned reversal will take years to play out. “Coal's true nemeses are innovation and economics. Fracking has made natural gas abundant and cheap. Breakthroughs in windmills, solar and other renewable technologies are making them affordable alternatives.”
Columnist: ‘The coming green wave’
A public backlash is growing against policies that promote extractive industries at the expense of businesses that rely on conservation of natural resources. “While President Trump tries to prop up the dying and dirty coal industry with taxpayer subsidies, the outdoor recreation industry has been roaring along,” writes the author. “It is a $374-billion-a-year economy, by the government’s own calculation, and more than twice that size by private estimates. That’s more than mining, oil, gas and logging combined. And yet, the centerpiece of a clean and growing industry is under attack by a president with a robber baron view of the natural world.”
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."
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.
Op-ed: Proposed Coal bailout would not stop U.S. transition to cleaner energy
A proposal by the Trump administration to save failing coal plants by invoking the Cold War-era Defense Production Act would have little lasting effect on the U.S. electricity-generation sector. A broad cross-section of executives and policymakers concur that the plan would not stop momentum behind a fast-moving transition to cleaner energy. That idea at its core is “a futile attempt to thwart long-term, fundamental change in U.S. energy markets that will proceed nonetheless, and to the benefit of customers everywhere,” the author writes.
More signs of coal’s diminishing market share
The national appetite for coal remains stagnant as the U.S. electricity sector continues to switch to other forms of fuel, most notably natural gas, which is better suited to day-to-day changes in demand—especially during warm-weather months, when air-conditioning use drives the market. “Wyoming feeds about 40 percent of national coal demand, but the fuel’s hold on the electricity market has weakened substantially in recent years, a trend that may continue.”
Federal proposals to bail out coal plants continue to fuel a backlash
Trump administration proposals to subsidize failing coal plants continue to anger the oil and gas industry, among others. Administration proposals to impose steel and aluminum tariffs will also damage the U.S. energy as a whole, critics say. One Arizona oil field services company owner said Trump’s “tortured coal policy penalizes natural gas” and that is “seems counter to what he campaigned on.”
Campaign to impose a carbon tax on utility industry gains traction
The utility company Exelon, which does business in 48 states, is joining a campaign to urge enactment of a federal carbon tax on the U.S. utility industry as a way to discourage further reliance on power generated from coal, natural gas, and oil. Other supporters of the initiative include ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and General Motors, and the proposal “has a good chance of getting across the finish line,” said Kathleen Barron, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs.
Report: Trend away from coal-fired generation persists
A new report on global electricity-generation trends finds once-conventional forms of fuel continuing to lose market share. The shift is driven partly by U.S. corporate preferences. “Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run,” said Elena Giannakopoulou, an energy economist for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables—(and) coal gets squeezed out.”
Backlash against Trump plan to subsidize coal
After President Trump ordered the Energy Department last week to devise a way to subsidize failing coal plants, an assortment of other energy interests criticized the initiative as a “misguided” policy move that will disrupt markets and hurt consumers. Opponents include solar and wind energy interests, the natural gas industry and the American Petroleum Institute. Should the plan proceed, “litigation would begin almost immediately,” one analyst said.
Report: U.S. Solar Jobs Outnumber Coal 2-1
A report from a think tank led by former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz found that solar-industry jobs topped 350,000 last year, more than double the total in coal-related work. The report ties half of all 133,000 news jobs in the energy sector to efficiency initiatives. Solar is gaining also on the natural-gas industry.
Commentary: ‘Modernization Is the Ticket to National Energy Security’
Most discussion around the possibility of the federal government invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 in order to keep failing coal-fired and nuclear electricity plants alive has avoided exploring more sensible policy recommendations.
Opposition to Subsidies for FirstEnergy’s Plants Runs Deep
A formidable resistance has emerged to FirstEnergy Solutions’ request that the Energy Department let it raise electricity rates to keep its failing power plants alive. Opponents include the American Petroleum Institute, General Electric and Walmart. “Ultimately, it’s going to be very expensive, whether it puts the cost on ratepayers or taxpayers, all under this alleged emergency that doesn’t exist,” says one critic.
Congress, Over White House Objections, Succeeds in Leaving Coal Country Money in U.S. Budget Bill
Several coal country programs at risk of being scrapped in the latest budget bill out of Congress survived. The law maintains funding for black-lung clinics. The Appalachian Regional Commission will receive more money for its economic-development work, much of which goes into the POWER Initiative, which operates job retraining programs in areas hard hit by the collapse of the coal industry. West Virginia will continue to get $30 million in grants to support development in struggling coal counties. The bill was enacted largely through the insistence of Congress and over the objections of the president.
State Policies and Market Forces Limit What Washington Can Do to Save Coal
Trends in electricity generation are being driving increasingly by state policies that are adding to the larger momentum of market forces. Twenty-nine states have enacted requirements for more reliance on solar and wind which—combined with “the cheap price of natural gas and the rapidly falling cost of renewables,” as one analyst puts it—undermines Trump administration policies and rhetoric aimed at bringing coal-fired electricity back.
Commentary: North American utility shift driven by ‘good business sense’
A recent industry survey has 80 percent of 600 utility executives in the U.S. and Canada expecting electricity generation markets to continue to embrace clean energy models in a move driven by business practicalities. “Programs to help customers save energy, and solar and wind energy are cheaper in most places than almost any other resource to meet customer energy needs, including coal and gas, and getting cheaper all the time,” writes the author.
Trump $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Stands to Disadvantage Impoverished Communities
In a shift in long-standing federal policy, the Trump administration is beginning a $1.2 trillion infrastructure-improvement push that prioritizes attracting profit-motivated investors over determinations based on public benefit. The strategy could put impoverished communities at a disadvantage. “Instead of the public sector deciding on public needs and public priorities, the projects that are most attractive to private investors are the ones that will go to the head of the line,” one analyst said.
Editorial: ‘Empty Promises to Appalachian Coal Miners’
Political rhetoric from Washington will neither reverse market forces that are making old ways of generating electricity obsolete nor help hard-hit communities. “What miners need are real programs to help transition them to new jobs, not promises of ‘beautiful, clean coal.’”
2017: A Year of Growing National Momentum Against Coal Industry
Changes in utility-company policies and outright plant closures in Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin highlight the electricity-generation transition that gained momentum nationally in 2017: “While President Donald Trump’s ‘Energy Dominance’ agenda gave the false impression that federal efforts could revive coal, 27 coal-fired plants totaling 22 gigawatts (GW) of capacity were announced for early closure or conversion in 2017 – roughly one every 15 days since Trump’s election.”
Uptick in U.S. Coal Exports Leaves Industry Still Well Short of Previous Prosperity
While U.S. coal producers are celebrating a recent uptick in exports, the change is likely to be temporary as buyers in Asia adopt new energy policies, and the improvement is relative: “Exports this year will still be roughly 37 million tons below what they were in 2012, when they peaked at 126 million tons.”
Solar Uptake by K-12 Schools Driven by Cost
Over 5,000 K-12 schools in the U.S are powered by solar, part of a growing trend. A new study by the Solar Energy Industries Association puts the total capacity at about 910 megawatts, or enough to power 190,000 homes. “The biggest reason for the surge is the economic benefits of solar energy.”
2018 Outlook: Another Year of Coal Plant Retirements
A wave of coal-fired electricity plant retirements— in Kentucky, Missouri, Montana and Texas — add to a toll that continues to add up nationally. The closures accelerate a trend in which nearly twice as much coal-generation capacity will be retired in 2018 compared to 2017.
Trump’s Coal Programs Could Undermine Wind and Solar Industries
Several Trump administration policy proposals aimed at propping up the coal industry stand to slow the growth momentum of solar- and wind-powered electricity generation. They include “asking regulators to rewrite power market rules, revamping the tax code, and imposing tariffs on foreign-made solar panels.”
Report: Trump’s Policies Are Worse for Coal Than Obama’s
An analysis published by researchers at the Brattle Group finds that Trump administration policy toward natural gas industry production will undermine coal companies, “leading to net mining employment losses of 13,000-16,000 jobs” compared to Obama administration policies had they been left in place.