Who’s Really Killing Coal?
We’ve heard a lot about the Trump administration’s plans to bring back jobs in the coal industry by removing EPA regulation. While the executive orders are already rolled back and the Clean Power Plan comes under the chopping block, it turns out market forces, not EPA regulations, are the driving cause of coal’s impending demise. If supporting American energy production and creating jobs were truly priorities for this administration, they would support the burgeoning renewable generation industry.
How did we get to this present state?
Let’s examine the market forces at work behind coal’s dry spell, and note that these forces will not go away with the removal of regulations. First, coal jobs are less plentiful due to the rise of automation that started in the 80s. The process of extraction is now simply become more efficient which equals fewer jobs. Second, in West Virginia where people are most impacted by loss of coal jobs, wide and easily accessible seams of coal are now exhausted. Mountaintop removal requires greater investments and high technology to extract new coal, but not greater manpower. Third, natural gas has become cheaper than coal in the U.S. And as it pollutes less heavily than coal, it is replacing coal much quicker than anticipated, acting in its intended role as a “bridge fuel” to curb the worst carbon emissions from coal. (It’s worth noting that natural gas still creates methane leaks- difficult to detect and 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide!) Combine those factors with the fourth, global pressure on energy investors to buy and build new generation that reduces emissions, and coal’s once limitless investment pool is drying up as it becomes more expensive to extract. Coal will continue to decline in prominence due to market forces alone, though it will be dirtier than ever without EPA regulations.
The good news is that coal’s days are numbered.
The markets for renewable energy are taking off, with renewables coming to a competitive price point far more quickly than predicted, and in some places are already cheaper than natural gas. Solar and wind already employ more people nationwide than all types of fossil fuel energy production at the utility scale production level, according to the DOE’s Energy and Employment Report for 2017. In fact, jobs in solar generation are growing 12 times faster than the economy average, while jobs in fossil fuels are stalling. Let’s step back and think about that for a second. In 2016 solar electric generation created more new jobs than oil, gas and coal combined, and that’s just at the utility scale. If we included all the regional installers of distributed generation for residential and smaller commercial systems, like Grassroots Solar, we would see even more astonishing figures.
A forward-thinking business person looking at the numbers would clearly see the rising future of job creation and market opportunity that renewable generation represents, and recognize a chance to do well by doing good. Every year global solar energy production doubles as more arrays are installed in what we call exponential growth—growth that looks modest for the first few years and then skyrockets. Supporting America’s clean and independent energy sector is the best way for the administration to meet their stated promises in job creation, rather than removing support to this industry in favor of even more subsidies and freebies to fossil fuel. Soon or later, our governing bodies will recognize the grassroots movement to demand and create domestic renewable energy generation and we here at Grassroots Solar are happy to be part of that movement.