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.