The Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, would cut coal consumption — but even if the regulations are blocked, coal consumption will not increase.So there you have it. Coal is fading for strictly economic reasons, so all the political grandstanding the Republicans can muster will not bring it back.
“You just can’t go with new coal plants at this point in time,” Patton said. “It is just not economically feasible to do so.”
Patton acknowledged that entire communities, particularly across Southern West Virginia, are being decimated by coal’s decline. However, he laid out a series of stark economic realities.
By 2026, Patton said, Appalachian Power expects its use of coal power to be down 26 percent, with or without the Clean Power Plan.
That’s because of cheaper alternatives and already-imposed environmental regulations that make coal uncompetitive, Patton said.
The cost of natural gas electricity, including construction of power plants and infrastructure, is about $73 per megawatt hour, Patton said. For a conventional coal plant, it’s $95 per megawatt hour.
Even wind power, which is less dependable than coal, is still significantly cheaper, at $73 per megawatt hour, when a longstanding tax credit for wind energy production is factored in.
An advanced coal power plant, with carbon capture and storage to lower emissions, costs nearly twice as much, at $144 per megawatt hour, Patton said.
Whether the ongoing decline in fossil fuel use will be enough to avoid major changes in the climate, given how much carbon dioxide is already in the atmosphere, is something we won't really know until it happens. Or doesn't.