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Rural Blog: Coal’s future still bleak as utilities shift to cheaper natural gas, wind and solar power options

“A year after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to revive the ailing U.S. coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever,” Timothy Gardner reports for Reuters.

“A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary uptick in foreign demand for U.S. coal rather than presidential policy changes.”

Coal mining

Coal-fired power plants are shutting down left and right as utilities shift toward cheaper natural gas and wind and solar power. Melissa McHenry, a spokesperson for American Electric Power, one of the largest U.S. utilities, says the company is not planning to build any more coal plants, and says “The future for coal is dictated by economics … and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.” AEP gets 47 percent of its power generating capacity from coal, but plans to shrink that to 33 percent by 2030.

President Trump’s pro-coal policies may have little long-term effect on the coal industry. Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, which represents major U.S. coal companies, told Gardner that “The government is no longer against us . . . We now only have market forces to contend with.” 

According to Standard & Poor’s Global, natural gas will probably overtake coal permanently by 2030 or 2035. 

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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