Even in decline, coal remains important factor in powering America, industry executive says

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By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Coal remains an important part of America’s power generating system, according to a group that represents electric companies, coal producers, railroads and manufacturers, called “The Coal Fleet.”

Paul Bailey, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, appeared before the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy last week.

“Coal has always been one of the most important sources of power, along with nuclear, and hydroelectric generation, with natural gas now becoming one,” he told lawmakers. ”Currently, coal provides 30 percent of the electricity in this country and is expected to remain at that level for the next 10 or 15 years. It was 50 percent 10 years ago, and has been declining since.”

Bailey said there are several reasons for the decline.

Paul Bailey, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, appeared before the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy on Thursday (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

“Unfavorable federal and state policies,” he said. “This includes subsidies for renewable power sources, mandates of renewables, low natural gas prices, and a very low increase in the demand for electricity.”

Still, he said the coal fleet has some positive attributes, such as reliability, that are not being compensated properly.

“Coal has a very secure fuel supply, as do nuclear plants. Gas does not typically have a secure fuel supply. There is no pile of gas sitting near a gas power plant. The average pile of coal at a coal-fired power plant is between 73 and 82 days. Coal prices are also more stable than natural gas.”

He also said coal-fired power plants have cut emissions 92 percent since 1970.

While President Donald J. Trump has vowed to reverse some of the policies of his predecessor regarding coal, Bailey explained why it hasn’t happened yet. “The administration has been slow to staff up political appointees. There are 15 key positions open at EPA right now, and less than half of those have been filled. Therefore, the policies are going to change slowly.”

Bailey testified that a majority of Americans support coal-fired power plants. “We conducted polling this spring and I was pleasantly shocked. Sixty-percent support the use of coal to generate electricity. This is as good as it was 10 years ago.”

He said they also asked people what they value most in their electricity supply. “Number one was price, followed by reliability. What didn’t poll so well was green energy.”

Bailey added: “Coal is not a silver bullet, nuclear is not a silver bullet, gas is not a silver bullet. Please do all you can do to elevate the discussion about the need for diversity in electricity sources.”

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