U.S. coal trends

by Milan on January 4, 2019

in Economics, Power plants

The Economist reports:

[A]ccording to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in America dropped by 2.7% in his first year of office. This was the biggest reduction anywhere in the rich world.

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who now heads the EPA, has been quick to praise “President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda” for this. In fact, the decline has little to do with the president’s policies. America’s carbon dioxide emissions have been on a downward trajectory since 2007, mostly because power plants have been switching to cheaper, cleaner natural gas and away from Mr Trump’s beloved rock. According to the Energy Information Administration, a government agency, America guzzled nearly equal quantities of coal and natural gas in 2007. Today natural gas provides twice as much energy as coal. Energy from renewable sources, like wind and solar, now make up just over 10% of America’s energy consumption.

Since 2010 nearly 40% of the country’s coal-generating capacity has either been shut down or designated for closure. This is mostly because rival fuels were cheaper, rather than the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was much derided but never actually went into effect. Even under Mr Trump, coal plants are expected to shut down 11.4gw of capacity this year, the most since 2015. No American utility plans to build a new coal-fired plant; most of the existing ones are at least 40 years old. The environmental regulations that the Trump administration is trying to undo will not restore the coal industry to its glory days, though they might slow its decline.

As always, the fight against climate change isn’t just about moving in the right direction, but moving fast enough to avoid disaster.

Still, every setback for coal is welcome for those hoping for a safe and prosperous future.

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No end of bad news

by Milan on October 8, 2018

in Climate change, Updates

The IPCC has issued a new warning about how we have a stark and immediate choice between abandoning fossil fuels or dangerously destabilizing the Earth’s climate.

If anything, we seem less well prepared than ever to respond. Instead of a brave experiment in cooperation and moving beyond narrow notions of national sovereignty, the EU is fracturing into bickering sub units. The United States is run by incompetents. Canada’s government is scrupulously committed to fighting climate change, just as long as that doesn’t actually require reducing domestic or global GHG pollution. And meanwhile Indian and Chinese fossil fuel demand keeps galloping upward.

There’s the increasingly abstract hope that as global conditions continue to worsen somehow governments will get seriously, and then there is the sealed envelope hope/fear that we will contain the worst via geoengineering.

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A Finnish government representative is saying they will introduce legislation to phase out coal and bring in a carbon tax in 2018.

Their efforts to build new nuclear reactors are less promising.

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The Pembina Institute’s Binnu Jeyakumar recently wrote an op-ed about the future of coal:

In the midst of all the recent colourful political events south of the border, you might have easily missed an irony that Alberta would be wise to pay attention to. Even as the U.S. administration promised to roll back environmental regulations and climate commitments, U.S. coal plants continued to shut down. In fact, on the same day the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement, three coal-fired plants were shut down. In 2016 alone, U.S. utilities retired more than twice the total coal capacity of Alberta.

Coal plants are shutting down across the globe because of their negative health impacts and low profitability. Coal has a hard time competing with cheap gas generation and increasingly cheap renewable energy. It is why financiers and utilities are stepping away from coal in all OECD countries. In growing economies, the investment in renewables is far exceeding that in coal power; and coal usage has peaked in countries such as China. As the full cost of electricity production (including the impacts of emissions) is accounted for, coal plants will only become more expensive.

The weight of the evidence is against those, such as Robin Campbell, who blame regulations and government policy for coal shut downs. However, Mr. Campbell is right in pointing out the need for a rhetoric-free transition plan that is sensitive to the needs of the workers and the communities. But such a plan must also be free of rhetoric about the future of coal; the phase-out is inevitable.

It’s an encouraging perspective, though it doesn’t seem to fully factor in China’s frightening enthusiasm for building new coal plants abroad.

Jeyakumar goes on to stress the importance of retraining, which I agree is crucial both ethically and pragmatically. It’s a hard sell to tell a community that the good of the world requires them to rapidly transition away from an industry which has been an important economic driver. It’s callous and counterproductive not to offer material assistance for doing so.

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Two things Canada’s oil industry needs to understand

January 23, 2016

First — any expectation that ‘business as usual’ in the sense of rapid growth in production will return is ill-founded. Most importantly, this is because an effective global transition to low-carbon energy requires countries like Canada to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure as well as to develop serious plans to phase out fossil […]

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Why divest from fossil fuels?

April 16, 2015

Campaigns at universities especially can benefit from this document, prepared for the University of Toronto: The Fossil Fuel Industry and the Case for Divestment: Update, by Toronto350.org Contributors to original brief: Milan Ilnyckyj, Emily Barrette, Stuart Basden, Tim Berk, Tamara Brown- stone, Mie Inouye, Neal Lantela, Amy Luo, Monica Resendes, Jessica Vogt, Miriam Wilson, Cameron […]

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Germany and Japan reverting to coal

May 3, 2014

Disheartening news: America’s gas boom has prompted its coal miners to seek new export markets, sending prices plunging on world markets. So long as consumers do not pay for coal’s horrible side-effects, that makes it irresistibly cheap. In Germany power from coal now costs half the price of watts from a gas-fired power station. It […]

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IPCC AR5, Working Group I summary video

December 28, 2013

Working Group I of the IPCC has released a nine-minute video summarizing the science in the first part of the latest assessment report:

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Democracy Now! “Will 350.org Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Be Key Tactic in 2013 Battle over Climate Change?”

January 3, 2013

Today, the radio program Democracy Now! featured Bill McKibben, talking about the 350.org divestment campaign. There is information about it on their website.

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Bad news on coal

November 25, 2012

BBC: Coal resurgence calls undermine clean energy commitments Related: The World Falls Back In Love With Coal

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