We must stop pretending our nation’s coal power plants are unessential. The loss of coal generation is undermining our energy security, contributing to inflation and risking rolling blackouts.
What’s happening is that we are dismantling essential generating capacity far faster than it is being replaced with reliable alternatives. This haphazard, even irresponsible, approach to the energy transition is a crisis of our own making. But it’s one we can correct.
We must re-embrace energy pragmatism and recognize that we can continue the addition of renewable sources of power but do so on top of — not in place of — a foundation provided by dispatchable, baseload generation. We wouldn’t be the only nation taking that approach. Even the climate guardians in Europe have re-evaluated the importance of their coal fleets.
Think about security: As the war in Ukraine intensified, sanctions were imposed on Russia to stop the export of natural gas to Europe. Consequently, the global price of gas soared, forcing countries worldwide to rethink their energy strategies.
Despite earlier commitments to phase out coal from electricity generation and replace it with natural gas and renewables, Europe is increasing its use of coal and leaning on its coal fleet as a bridge to the future. Today preparations are underway across Europe — in Italy, Greece, Austria, Great Britain, Poland, France, Germany and the Netherlands — to restart coal plants, or delay retirements, to reduce energy costs and stabilize energy security.
Coal shipments to Rotterdam — the key energy port for much of Europe — are up 35 percent this year over last. At the same time, U.S. coal exports to Europe have doubled.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister and a leader of the environmentalist Green Party, announced that Germany is pursuing a return to “coal-fired power plants for a transitional period” to reduce gas consumption and temper electricity prices. If a member of Germany’s Green party can acknowledge the need for coal, we can also.
Coal also remains king in Asia. Not only did coal consumption rebound globally by 6 percent last year, but the International Energy Agency recently reported that global coal supply investment is expected to grow by 10 percent in 2022. China and India are expected to invest $80 billion in coal supply this year. In fact, China continues to produce and use more coal than the rest of the world combined.
U.S. energy and climate leadership isn’t going to re-emerge by dismantling our coal industry and sacrificing our grid reliability and energy affordability. Coal is a hedge against volatile natural gas prices and protection against crippling power shortages. According to the federal energy regulator in charge of grid reliability, nearly two-thirds of the nation is at risk of rolling blackouts this summer from lack of available supply.
Despite the rhetoric of critics who raise objections to the use of coal, the reality is that we cannot shut down more coal plants and expect intermittent solar and wind power to quickly and reliably fill the void.
According to EIA’s tracking in the United States, reported coal price has been increasing steadily in the last year and even jumped from 17 percent to 34 percent in early July, depending on the coalfield.
Clearly, coal is still in great demand and will not go away!
Successfully navigating the energy transition should not mean forgoing affordable, reliable power. Our coal fleet is the bridge we need to cross to reach energy security. Let’s make sure we embrace pragmatic electricity production.
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- On July 25, 2022