Coal use is declining in the US and it will likely fall fast globally.
- The generating capacity of US coal plants peaked at 317,649 MW in 2011 and but fell by 14,343 MW to 303,306 MW by 2013–lower than any year since 2003 the last that data was available.
- In 2013, the average number of employees at U.S. coal mines decreased 10.5% to 80,396 employees, a decrease of 9,442 employees compared to 2012.
- “Washington state may play critical role in future of Colstrip power plants,” Link to article by Mike Dennisen.
In early July 2015, Alpha coal company announced it was laying off 292 workers in 6 mines and a processing plant in Virginia and Kentucky. Unfortunately those workers will not have the same enhanced unemployment and retraining benefits that this I-180 Initiative provides for displaced fossil fuel workers.
- Over the past five years, 300 U.S. coal mines shut down, more than 200 coal-fired power plants closed, and 25 coal companies went bankrupt. Miners in the last union coal mine in Kentucky pulled their last 10 hour/4 day a week shift in September of 2015. That leaves Kentucky’s non-union miners to do long hours 6 days a week. Nevertheless, during that time top executives at the 30 largest fossil-fuel companies in the United States made nearly $6 billion. That’s twice as much as the US pledged to the Green Climate Fund, an international financial institution intended to help poor countries respond to climate change. Letting coal company execs fly while downsized fossil-fuel workers scramble to replace their jobs is not just.
- Alpha Natural Resources a coal company went belly-up. It convince the bankruptcy judge to grant $3.4 to $11.9 million in bonuses for 15 top executives while asking the court to cut medical and life insurance benefits for 4,580 nonunion miners and their spouses and making 6,670 active employees ineligible for retirement benefits. While I-180 likely would not help workers in similar circumstances, it provides pension benefits for Montana workers when defunct coal companies can’t make good on previously promised pension benefits. Link to this news report.
- “U.S. coal use is dropping – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure in the last five years.
- “Major U.S. coal producers, such as Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have seen their market values drop by 61 and 94 percent, respectively, as of September 2014.
- “The Stowe Global Coal Index – a composite index of companies from around the world whose principal business involves coal – dropped 70 percent between April 2011 and September 2014.
- “China still consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, but usage fell in 2014, possibly signaling a peak in usage.
- “While India has not committed to cap or reduce its coal use, it recently doubled its tax on coal mined domestically or imported into the country – a revenue transfer that simultaneously discourages the use of coal and provides investment capital for solar generation.”
In 2004 , the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) estimated it’s 19 states would need 43,500 MW of new electric generating capacity by 2015. We have exceeded that WGA number. As of March 31, 2015, 59,502 MW of new wind, solar, and geothermal  electric generating capacity had been installed in those states. (The wind numbers were calculated from 2015 data compared to 2004 data.)
Capacity factors for wind turbines, while improving with increased tower height and technological innovation, are less than capacity factors in other generation, so it takes more MW of wind turbines to produce the same amount of electricity as a MW of fossil fuel facilities. Nevertheless, some of this new green electricity capacity is replacing fossil fuel generation that has been and is being shut down.
For more on this topic see the Closing Coal Plants chapter in “The Great Transition.”
Page last updated 2/11/2016