Spotlight: Coal fading from America's economic radar despite White House push

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-01 14:23:16|Editor: Xiaoxia
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by Peter Mertz

DENVER, United States, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Free market capitalism is putting the skids under one of the Trump Administration's biggest initiatives -- coal production.

"Backwards thinking," encapsulated Mike O'Boyle, an analyst with Energy Innovation, an energy research group which released a study last week saying that 74 percent of American coal plants were obsolete and costing American customers more money now than renewable energy alternatives.

The Energy Innovation's study went viral last week, with media outlets across the world publishing the California think tank's findings that by 2025, almost 90 percent of U.S. coal firing plants could be phased out simply on the grounds of being too expensive to run.

By 2025, midwestern states including Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin will see their coal-fired plants under extreme pressure to close, due to renewable energy, the study showed.


Within 48 hours of the report' release, Idaho, the state that gave U.S. President Donald Trump his biggest margin of victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections, said it was aiming to run its power grid entirely on clean energy by 2045.

"We're giving customers what they want," Darrel Anderson, the Idaho Power chief told local newspaper the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday.

Six years ago, coal fueled 40 percent of this sparsely populated, rugged, northwestern state, a number that has been dropping each year. Ironically, back in 1974, the northwestern mountainous state was run entirely off hydroelectricity.

Anderson said Idaho could be done with coal completely by the mid 2030s, and have its last two fossil fuel guzzlers -- two natural gas plants -- shuttered before 2045.

This backwoods, conservative, pro-Trump state -- where Trump crushed Clinton by 32 points -- is blatantly bucking White House dogma by openly and boldly moving in the opposite energy direction.

The statistics don't lie.

Not only has the recent rapid deep-extraction of natural gas spelled the demise of coal, but "because solar prices have fallen 90 percent since 2009 and are projected to continue declining through 2025," all fossil fuel burning will soon become economically illogical, the 13-page Energy Innovation report concluded.

A 2018 Guardian headline said it succinctly: "Natural gas killed coal - now renewables and batteries are taking over."


Trump's promise to end of the "war on coal" by slashing regulations that protect residents and the atmosphere from harmful coal-fired power plant emissions seems to be fizzling out.

Only 35,000 Americans are employed in coal production, and 1.5 million in renewable energy, with the number growing each year, O'Boyle, who is also the lead author of the report, told Xinhua Friday.

In addition, health problems for people breathing fossil fuel output -- carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are another reason governments across the world are abandoning carbon-based burning.

Amid the concerns over global warming, clean energy industry is on the rise across the world as well as in the United States.

"Only a few coal miners, a handful of rich Republican coal mine owners, who donated to Trump, and the president himself, are pushing for more coal," said Washington, D.C. political analyst David B. Richardson.

"The real numbers are 99 percent against and 1 percent in favor across the country - with the administration again out to lunch," he told Xinhua.

Last month, Trump named coal-lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the Environmental Protection Agency -- with the goal to make it easier to open new coal plants.

O'Boyle said U.S. government's efforts cannot save coal industry, noting that coal plants are closing -- not opening -- these days.


Coal first replaced wood to heat American homes in the early 1800s, and now its time has gone, industry insiders privately admit.

The U.S. government's action to embrace "fossil fuels is utterly Neanderthal," said Richardson, a policy analyst during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s.

"It goes against the common good, the majority of Americans, all of the countries in the world, and is destructive to the planet ... utterly ridiculous," he said frankly to Xinhua.

Last week, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a plan to source half the state's power from renewable energy by 2030. A host of other western U.S. states have recently pledged to be carbon free by 2045.

Future generations "will benefit from both a cleaner environment and a more robust energy economy with exciting career and job opportunities," Grisham said in a statement.

In March, the Washington state senate voted for 100 percent clean electricity by 2045, with Gov. Jay Inslee ready to make it law, joining California and Hawaii with 100 percent clean energy targets.

Even power companies in the west are getting on board.

Xcel Energy, a utility holding company, also joined the movement in March, pledging to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 to its millions of customers in America's west and midwest -- Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Minnesota-based power company announced in a statement that it plans to double wind power sourcing while slashing its dependence on coal.