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Coal Sector Declining as Alternatives Become Competitive

I dispute the assertion of my blogospheric counterweight Mr. Powers that President Obama and the EPA are waging a “war on coal.” However, even if we ascribed some truth to that oversimplifying slogan, remember that Catholics gave us the just war theory. “War on coal” assumes that coal is somehow a fuel source without sin that we should burn freely without consideration of the impacts or other competitive alternatives:

The US shale gas price fell 80% since 2008. Meanwhile, renewable energy has become increasingly competitive. From 2005 to 2013 the amount of US electricity generated by burning coal dropped by 10.5%. This was picked up by gas (8.7%) and renewables (4.1%).

…Andrew Grant, report co-author said the report issued a warning that even without an international agreement on carbon emission, the most carbon intensive sectors of the economy were risky investments.

“The roof has fallen in on US coal, and alarm bells should be ringing for investors in related sectors around the world. These first tremors are amongst the clearest signs yet of a seismic shift in energy markets, as high carbon fuels are set to be increasingly outperformed by lower carbon alternatives,” he said [Karl Mathiesen, “US Coal Sector in ‘Structural Decline,’ Financial Analysts Say,” UK Guardian, 2015.03.24].

There is no war on coal. There are market forces driving better, cleaner energy production, and there regulatory forces trying to help.

Related: China is closing 2,000 smaller coal mines. Beijing is shutting down the last of four major coal-fired power plants. The EPA didn’t make the do that. A simple desire to breath did.

Related Related: Oil has collapsed because the oil industry based its maximize-output strategy on demand projections that turned out to be 10 million barrels a day too high.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-03-28 10:22

    Curious whether Black Hills Corpse will build that cathedral to itself after all.

    The war isn’t on coal; it’s on coal’s war on the Earth.

  2. larry kurtz 2015-03-28 10:25

    Why it doesn’t give tax reformers heartburn that energy companies and banks are based in regressive South Dakota remains a mystery.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2015-03-28 10:29

    There is a term in economics called, overall economic return. This is bottom line profits minus the pollution cost of a company. So if a company makes money but the neighbors have higher health costs, then the total effect of the coal company on the economy is not as good as it might seem. The regulators are aware of this. So if companies are properly regulated depending on the amount of pollution they emit, that is the best economic situation. So if world markets and inflation and the improvements in technology change in a way that the energy industry goes a different way, do not blame the regulators, they are simply making right changes happen, even though a selfish company might not want to cooperate.

  4. Bill Dithmer 2015-03-28 11:16

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. Since we started our solar based business, Missouri has seen plans, and the start of two huge solar generators built to subsidies the power companies electricity concerns.

    I thought it might be fun for the readers to see the future of solar. At this time, we are still producing 2/3rds more electricity then we are useing, even during the dark days of winter. Our first system is a 25 kw system and has been online for a couple of months. We just completed a 28 kw system this week and it will be online next week. That will be enough energy to run our green businesses. We also have a propane generator and enough battery storage for three days without any sun. Our geothermal units will heat and cool everything, including the pool, all powered by the sun.

    I could keep talking here but I think you would find my link more interesting. Part of having this kind of system is being able to monitor the health of the system.

    Our system is a little different. Each solar panel has its own inverter. These are called microinverters. This means that if any one component goes bad we will still be up and going. The older systems had one inverter and if one thing went bad the whole thing shut down.

    Here is the direct link to the online monitor for our system.

    You will need our email address, and the password for our page is william1953.

    There you will find realtime energy production for each microinverter, the history of each microinverter, and the complete system. It also shows you in terms of use how much energy you have made, and the carbon that you have not dumped. They do this by telling you how many average homes you could power with the electricity you have made, and the number of trees you have saved.

    The Blindman

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-28 11:50

    Or, to rephrase Kurtz, it’s a counterwar. Coal started; innovators like Bill will finish it.

    Hey, Bill! That’s great detail! Can you project a cost payoff time for your system? And that two-thirds surplus—would it be enough to power an electric car?

  6. Bill Dithmer 2015-03-28 12:53

    No Cory, because the projected cost of electricity in the future is so uncertain. Our system will pay for itself in from ten to fifteen years, at present cost, and would be faster if we got cash instead of credits. We built bigger then what we needed to leave room for expanding our private grid.

    The Blindman

  7. larry kurtz 2015-03-28 12:57

    Bill, our system runs the electric power really well but the fridge runs on propane: any ideas?

  8. Bill Dithmer 2015-03-28 12:58

    Yes im not sure how many you could charge but it would be many more then we will ever have guest.

    The Blindman

  9. Lynn 2015-03-28 13:14


    One of those SunFrost Propane refrigerators?

  10. larry kurtz 2015-03-28 13:18

    It’s an RV Dometic and a gas hog: we want to pull it and go on the system but nothing is very efficient even if you spend $2000 on a good one.

  11. Bill Dithmer 2015-03-28 13:27

    God Kurtz you had to ask something like that. For now, you are better of like you are. As panels inverters and batteries become both cheaper and more effecient, that will change for the long run.

    Somthing that helped us a lot was Staggered Start, that made it possible to start everything that uses power at different times according to importance. That one thing in a residential environment would mean that you could get by with a smaller system.

    We like all the creature comforts, some could get by on much less. We did that for a lot of years but now we want to have a business that says you can have luxury and still be green.

    Was the upfront cost worth the investment? I would hope so from looking at the data but that was just part of why we built like this. We wanted to make a statement about renewable energy.

    To think we were forced to leave SD because the cost there would have killed Carson House before it got off the ground.

    The Blindman

  12. Les 2015-03-28 13:38

    Curious as to where the coal trains are taking our coal if it isn’t asia, Cory?

  13. grudznick 2015-03-28 18:14

    Lar, I got a ‘lectric fridge I’d sell you for $200 next time you’re in town. Bring your big rig or that little flatbed trailer your sister-in-law has. Solar is free. The sun shines on us all.

  14. larry kurtz 2015-03-28 18:35

    drive up to pactola with that fridge, grud; tie yourself to it, then throw yourselves off the spillway: k?

  15. Lynn 2015-03-28 18:58


    For your sake I hope those crazies don’t want a special tax on taters & gravy

  16. grudznick 2015-03-28 19:02

    Ms. Lynn, gravy should be taxed exactly the same as everything else.

  17. Jana 2015-03-28 19:59

    Actually Grud, your greasy breakfast of choice should be taxed at the same rate as cigarettes.

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-28 20:01

    Republican priorities:

    1. War on Coal! OMG! This is terrible! It’s destroying our nation, our way of life. We must act Right Now!!!

    Republican Meh:

    1. War on Women.
    2. War on Children.
    3. War on Minorities.
    4. War on the Poor.
    5. War on Education.
    6. War on American Muslims.
    7. War onAtheists.

  19. barry freed 2015-03-29 08:34

    1366 Technologies will soon be selling their cells, claiming: “Cheaper than Coal”.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-29 10:57

    Someone’s still burning it, Les, but the news here says the big users are trying to use less.

  21. larry kurtz 2015-03-30 09:21

    Cory: Sibby is your ‘blogospheric counterweight’ as SDWC is irrelevant to the politics of my home state.

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