Coal industry — and its workers — losing out to natural gas
(National Public Radio; July 14) - Coal now generates just 34 percent of our electricity, down from about 50 percent four years ago. The loss of coal as the dominant energy source is having damaging effects on the towns that once relied on it for their livelihood. "I've never seen anything as quick as this to devastate the market, and this many layoffs at one time," says Thomas Clark, publisher of The Echo newspaper in Webster Springs, W.Va., and a mine inspector for the past four decades. "It's been a landslide."
For many in Webster County, the consensus is that the EPA and tough new regulations are the main culprits. But to get to the heart of what's really killing coal, travel south to Atlanta. At one of Georgia Power Co.'s newest plants, two gas turbines and one steam turbine generate about 840 megawatts, said plant manager Tony Tramonte. Railroad tracks once led to the facility and, every two days, a 100-car train would pull up filled with coal. The tracks are now dismantled and the coal turbines are gone.
Georgia Power, like a growing number of power companies, is ditching coal and switching to natural gas. "There's a 100 percent reduction in mercury emissions ... a 50 percent reduction in the rate of carbon dioxide production," plus huge drops in sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide pollution, Tramonte said. The bigger reason for the switch, however, is money. Domestic gas is killing coal because it's cheap and abundant. "What that means is, literally, natural gas is going to kill more coal-fired power plants than the EPA regulations," said Michael Zenker, a coal analyst for Barclays.