Saturday, October 7, 2017

How Trump plans to reboot coal jobs will have little effect

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, 10/24/17

Donald Trump is trying to make good on a campaign promise: to reboot  coal mining jobs by rolling back  the EPA regulations  that favor other fuel sources for  power plant electrical generation.. Does that mean back to dirty air and dirty coal? Not as much as Trump would hope  for jobs  or many  fear for the environment. The horse is mostly  out of the barn. Coal mining technology advancement uses fewer miners.  Market forces are a driver since the cost of natural gas has fallen.  States have their own regulations, such as Colorado, that favor converting plants to gas and increasing wind, thermal, and solar alternatives. Nationally nuclear is nearly 20% of generation. Gas is  already generating more electrical energy (34%) than coal. (30%) That is good news for the environment since natural gas emits 50 to 60% less carbon into the atmosphere than does coal. 1400 local and state government entities, including Colorado,  are pledged to uphold the Paris environment agreements so  policy goals for clean air will continue regardless in parts of the US.

 States such as Colorado,  with a 2010 plan  and regulations that favor  converting plants from coal  to gas, are already  well on their way to completing their plans. Whether  the lifting of regulations  on coal to bring down the cost  will be significant enough to make much of a difference is the question, given the investments already made in the  switch  to gas and alternatives.  Switching back is an expense in itself.  Colorado is unique since it produces both coal and natural gas. within the state,  which reduces transportation costs  of both, unlike other areas of the country .  60& of Colorado's electricity is generated by coal and a quarter is natural gas.   Front range mega cities such as Denver  fueled by Public Service  have already switched  their plants to natural gas.  

The human cost  of loss of coal jobs is not minor,  but it can be  mitigated by retraining skills  for  employment in manufacturing, truck driving, and alternative energy. Coal jobs in Colorado are already down 36% in three years and the state has launched retraining programs for jobs in alternative energy, though such  jobs pay much  less than coal miners once earned. In Appalachia and the west,  mechanized strip mining is replacing labor intensive deep mining. Job retraining may be the key to families at least earning a living wage, if not returning to the glory days of deep coal mining.

FYI: In 2016, the US electricity generation was 4079 TWh (billion kWh) net, 1380 TWh (34%) of it from gas, 1240 TWh (30%) from coal-fired plant, 805 TWh (19.7%)nuclear, 266 TWh from hydro, 226 TWh from wind, and 117 TWh from other renewables (EIA data).

Nuclear Power in the USA - World Nuclear Association

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