This letter is in response to the Deseret News editorial of June 30 and their conclusion that “traditional fossil fuel industries find themselves in a state of eclipse.” The editorial implies that because of Oakland’s decision to not allow coal to be shipped through that city and Rocky Mountain Power’s Solar Subscriber Program allowing customers to buy “blocks” of solar power, Utah’s coal industry is vanishing and we should just focus on the transition for coal-reliant communities.
Certainly, coal’s market share of the world’s energy supply has been declining. Some say it is because of overly burdensome regulations designed to drive coal out of the energy mix. Some say it’s because of competition from natural gas and the heavily subsidized production of wind and solar power. Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between.
This has led to an impression that coal is a dying industry, and editorials such as that from the Deseret News only serve to perpetuate that myth. The reality is coal is not going away anytime soon. On the contrary, coal will continue to be part of the backbone of our energy infrastructure for a long time.
As stated in the editorial, coal’s use for energy production in Utah is down 6 percent since 2014, but it still accounts for 76 percent of our power. That production is not easily or quickly replaced.
The editorial uses information from the U.S. Energy Information (EIA) regarding coal plant retirements and new production of natural gas, wind and solar to conclude that diminished use of coal is a “trend that clearly will not be reversed.”
The EIA also states that coal is the world’s slowest growing energy source, rising by only 0.6 percent per year through 2040. So other forms of energy are growing more rapidly, but the point is coal use is still growing. A loss of market share? Yes. But is coal going away? Hardly.
The demand for energy worldwide, projected to increase 40 percent by 2040, dictates our continued use of coal. If we want to raise the standard of living around the world, coal has an important role to play. Millions of people have no, or at least inadequate, access to energy. They need it. And they want our lifestyle and standard of living.
Utah’s population is projected to double by 2050. If Utah wants to maintain its competitive advantage and provide affordable, reliable power to homes and businesses, coal has an important role to play.
Some will say there is no such thing as clean coal, that it is a 19th century fuel source. However, advances in technology have rendered new coal-fired power plants substantially more efficient — producing 70 to 80 percent fewer emissions than the typical plant they replace.
Over the past 40 years, while coal use for electricity generation has more than doubled, we have cut regulated emissions by more than 60 percent. That is a tremendous success story for technology. And Utah coal is in demand because of its high quality — low sulfur, low water and high-BTU content that has helped produce those successes.
The reality is fossil fuels will supply more than two-thirds of the world’s energy needs for the foreseeable future. Rather than dispensing of a proven energy source, we should commit to advancing development of carbon abatement technologies for all fossil fuels. That would be real climate leadership.
The coal industry in Utah is not just important to “coal country.” It powers this entire state and our economy and will continue to do so. We shouldn’t be writing coal’s obituary just yet. Our children’s future will depend on our technology, not our ideology.
Mark Compton is president of the Utah Mining Association.