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Discussion So why is the US still using Coal for energy?

whm1974

Diamond Member
Jul 24, 2016
9,460
1,562
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Per the title why is my Country burning the very dirty and filthy fossil known as Coal when there are much cheaper and cleaner sources of energy available? Other Nations are heavily investing in renewable power?

Our senile POTUS is trying to bring coal back despite the experts saying that coal is a lost cause?
 

BUTCH1

Lifer
Jul 15, 2000
19,644
1,264
126
Per the title why is my Country burning the very dirty and filthy fossil known as Coal when there are much cheaper and cleaner sources of energy available? Other Nations are heavily investing in renewable power?

Our senile POTUS is trying to bring coal back despite the experts saying that coal is a lost cause?
Coal took a big hit due to the extended fracking going on, natural gas is a byproduct of that, much cleaner burn than coal.
 

balloonshark

Diamond Member
Jun 5, 2008
4,573
974
136
The battery tech is not quite where we need it to be since the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow all the time (except in Washington D.C.).
 

funboy6942

Lifer
Nov 13, 2001
14,743
142
106
49
I agree with solar to a point for if you cant direct the panels as the sun moves, they are not all that efficient, and ontop of that having to replace them about every 10 years or so with new, between stationary, and useless if its cloudy, having to replace, how much of the planet are you really saving in the manufacture of them as well, that cannot be all that clean to produce with no waste in doing so.

If it didnt cost a bundle to get them to track the sun, worked while cloudy out, didnt cause waste to produce, didnt need to be replaced that often, had to use lead batteries to store energy for cloudy days (god forbid it stays cloudy for days and waste causing batteries die, leaving me with no power at all :( ), and there was no wind out there either to move my wind powered fans, which cost a bundle, and have blades that need to be replaced, and there is a bunch of waste produced to make the blades as well, and didnt kill the birds, some of which are endangered, Id be all for it all :p

Kinda damned if you do or not, and which is the lesser of all evils. Coal is bad, but so is producing the solar panels and need replacing way to often, and wind generators in making of them and especially the blades for they more at over 100mph, and because of the wind going across the blades, and weight, the composites they are made of cause wastes thats harmful. And they kill the crap out of birds :O OH and not to mention when the brakes go out and they explode.

If its not windy, or sunny, how you gonna make power? And if it goes for days, them batteries your using thats bad for the environment are gonna run out, and then what too? Im all for it, but I dont see either of them to be the saving grace they are all out there trying to make them to be. Im not too happy either about using coal, or nuke, but what u gonna do for no wind, no sun, and have to track the sun, and have a but load of them all to do the same as coal or nuke, makes them just as bad, but with coal and nuke it can be sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, no wind, and still produce the same amount of power all day long.

Is there anything else out there other then sun and wind to make power that doesnt rely on it and is waste free to produce? I know you can use water powered with a dam which I think is the cleanest power to produce and make, but there isnt enough of them, or places to put them to take over all the other forms.

Then you got tidal powered, like wind, but the blades move with the tide, but still hazardous to make with the special blades, and construction of the units, and still have to be replaced now and again, and hate to think of what they kill in the ocean with the blades like wind and birds.
 

balloonshark

Diamond Member
Jun 5, 2008
4,573
974
136
So Congress needs to fund R&D of energy storage devices.
I was also wondering how much if any tax payer money goes towards battery research. We seem to want to invest a ton of money in things that kills us and others. It would be nice to see our tax dollars go towards good things to share with the world so we didn't have to spend so much money "defending" ourselves. I'm a dreamer :).
 

Zorba

Diamond Member
Oct 22, 1999
8,471
2,348
136
Per the title why is my Country burning the very dirty and filthy fossil known as Coal when there are much cheaper and cleaner sources of energy available? Other Nations are heavily investing in renewable power?

Our senile POTUS is trying to bring coal back despite the experts saying that coal is a lost cause?
The simple answer is that until pretty recently coal was the cheapest fuel source. Then power plants are very expensive to build and have 50+ year life spans, so it takes a lot of time to replace them. The cost savings between NG and Coal isn't going to justify shuttering a plant that is years away from needing major overhaul or upgrade.

No body is going to build a new coal plant in the US, though.
 
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uallas5

Senior member
Jun 3, 2005
947
596
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Basically the coal plants we have were expensive to build and nobody wants to retire something before it's end-of-life. However as they retire they are being replaced with alternatives, generally natural gas but also solar, wind, water, etc. and the percentage of total power produced has been going down consistently:

Coal power in the United States accounted for 39% of the country's electricity production at utility-scale facilities in 2014, 33% in 2015, 30.4% in 2016, 30.0% in 2017, and 27.4% in 2018.

As far as new plants, there are only 4 on the books, but 3 are on hold and only 1 being actively worked on:

The federal government counts four new coal projects on a list of planned power plants nationwide. Three of those face long odds, and none will be able to replace the millions of tons in lost coal demand resulting from recent retirements, even as the Trump administration has vowed to revive the ailing industry.

The developer of a proposed 320-megawatt unit in Wyoming is facing jail time after pleading guilty to stealing government cash. A Kentucky coke plant that would have generated electricity as a byproduct has been scrapped. And a planned $2.1 billion plant in Georgia has idled.

The sole U.S. coal facility under construction: a tiny plant being built by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
 

Commodus

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 2004
8,130
5,176
136
Per the title why is my Country burning the very dirty and filthy fossil known as Coal when there are much cheaper and cleaner sources of energy available? Other Nations are heavily investing in renewable power?

Our senile POTUS is trying to bring coal back despite the experts saying that coal is a lost cause?
The short answer is that it probably won't be for much longer at the current rate. Natural gas and renewable energy are taking over. And Trump's attempts to prop up coal have largely failed. Hell, Murray energy -- the biggest US coal mining company, with a CEO who practically fawned over Trump -- declared bankruptcy in late October.

As for why Trump has been trying to save coal? Partly because of the usual Republican willingness to take bribes from horrible industries, but also because of Trump's anti-Obama contrarianism. If Obama loves renewable energy and protecting the planet, Trump has to back coal and killing the planet. Why? 'Cause Obama made fun of him at a dinner once.
 

Commodus

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 2004
8,130
5,176
136
Why DID Obama do that? Was it the birtherism thing?
I'd say a large part of it, yeah. This was at the height of Trump's birtherism fantasies. The kicker is that Obama wasn't even all that scathing -- but from all indications, Trump was livid. Trump believes he should be praised at all times, and to be publicly humiliated, even in a gentle ribbing way, was the gravest sin possible in his mind.

I've heard that dinner likened to a supervillain origin story, where you can practically see Trump's mind breaking as he hatches a plan to destroy the country out of revenge.
 

Bitek

Diamond Member
Aug 2, 2001
9,175
3,182
136
1. The electoral college
2. Lobbyists
3. Momentum of the legacy industry
 

K1052

Lifer
Aug 21, 2003
35,951
9,614
136
The simple answer is that until pretty recently coal was the cheapest fuel source. Then power plants are very expensive to build and have 50+ year life spans, so it takes a lot of time to replace them. The cost savings between NG and Coal isn't going to justify shuttering a plant that is years away from needing major overhaul or upgrade.

No body is going to build a new coal plant in the US, though.
This has changed with gas prices so low also power can be more cheaply bought on the open market. Coal just cannot compete economically anymore. 2/3rds or more of the remaining US feet bleeds cash to run.

Natural gas and non hydro renewables (wind and solar) are the only new capacity utilities are buying. Wind in particular has become so cheap that a good portion of current and future coal retirements will be replaced with wind.
 

Zorba

Diamond Member
Oct 22, 1999
8,471
2,348
136
This has changed with gas prices so low also power can be more cheaply bought on the open market. Coal just cannot compete economically anymore. 2/3rds or more of the remaining US feet bleeds cash to run.

Natural gas and non hydro renewables (wind and solar) are the only new capacity utilities are buying. Wind in particular has become so cheap that a good portion of current and future coal retirements will be replaced with wind.
Yeah, like I said, no one is building new coal plants. But I haven't really heard of many early decommissions, either.

I'd like to know more plants don't convert their boilers to NG, though. I assume some of it is access to infrastructure, since many coal plants are in the sticks and you need a pretty big pipeline of NG, but there are many in urban areas still running coal.
 

Fenixgoon

Lifer
Jun 30, 2003
27,616
2,593
126
Basically the coal plants we have were expensive to build and nobody wants to retire something before it's end-of-life. However as they retire they are being replaced with alternatives, generally natural gas but also solar, wind, water, etc. and the percentage of total power produced has been going down consistently:
/thread
Replacement power plants of any kind take time to build. In the meantime, yeah the coal plants are still firing. You don't just turn off a power plant, let alone 40% of our electrical generation, without having something at the ready to pick up the energy demand.
 

cytg111

Lifer
Mar 17, 2008
15,156
5,268
136
The battery tech is not quite where we need it to be since the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow all the time (except in Washington D.C.).
Plus windmills go rooooooaaaarooooooaaarrrrrooooooaaaaarrrr - and give you cancer.
 

Dave_5k

Member
May 23, 2017
141
146
86
Economics, and preference to have the lights on rather than constant black-outs if coal was taken out of service today without replacement. There is no direct cost to coal producers for air pollution. Even a moderate CO2 emissions tax would accelerate the already occurring change-over to cleaner and cheaper renewables and natural gas. Note 10-20,000 MW per year of US coal capacity has already been retiring in recent years, replaced with mix of renewables and natural gas, driven primarily by economics including tax incentives.

But still have about 240,000 MW of coal power capacity in the US - if we want to replace that with just wind or solar, overall talking about more than a trillion dollars of capital investment, and more than a decade of work to implement. First, need about $750 billion of capital investment just for wind/solar generation to replace the coal (need 2-3 MW of wind or solar capacity to replace 1 MW of coal, as sun & wind not always available), plus as a very rough guess another $200 billion or more in storage. Plus easily another $100 billion or more in transmission upgrades to take from more remote locations for wind/solar to cities, vs. current closer coal generation locations. Note can save a significant portion of that last $300 billion by mixing in natural gas with the renewable replacements - which is what has been happening in practice, driven by economics including tax incentives.

If tax the CO2, will sharply accelerate the already gradually occurring changeover and further enhance economic preference for renewables vs. coal and even natural gas. Finally, note there isn't sufficient construction or manufacturing capacity in the US to replace those coal plants all at once, or even in 3-5 years, that's more likely a decade of work if scheduled out now and start ramping up capacity. And that's before dealing with permitting lead times and NIMBY which can set those schedules back another 3-5 years or even completely block development.

As an aside, note retiring the entirety of the remaining 240,000 MW of coal in US, which is already gradually in progress, will effectively not quite offset the new coal power construction in China for the next ~5 years.

Disclaimer: I do have direct interest in renewable power generation in my current job
 

K1052

Lifer
Aug 21, 2003
35,951
9,614
136
Yeah, like I said, no one is building new coal plants. But I haven't really heard of many early decommissions, either.

I'd like to know more plants don't convert their boilers to NG, though. I assume some of it is access to infrastructure, since many coal plants are in the sticks and you need a pretty big pipeline of NG, but there are many in urban areas still running coal.
There are a lot happening and more coming. The biggest coal plant in the west, Navajo Generating Station, just closed because it’s customers can buy power on the market much more cheaply than operate it and it has useful life left. Us coal consumption is near a 40 year low and continues to fall.

Yeah if the gas infra isn’t close there is little upside to converting. Also wind and solar are very price competitive now as a new build option so a lot of utilities are doing that instead and using gas to fill the gaps.
 

K1052

Lifer
Aug 21, 2003
35,951
9,614
136
/thread
Replacement power plants of any kind take time to build. In the meantime, yeah the coal plants are still firing. You don't just turn off a power plant, let alone 40% of our electrical generation, without having something at the ready to pick up the energy demand.
Coal fired generation now represents 25% and continues to decline. Utilities are making steady progress in retiring the fleet while building new power.
 
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K1052

Lifer
Aug 21, 2003
35,951
9,614
136
As an aside, note retiring the entirety of the remaining 240,000 MW of coal in US, which is already gradually in progress, will effectively not quite offset the new coal power construction in China for the next ~5 years.
IMO there are going to be a lot of stranded assets from the Chinese coal power build program. Their incentives to construct are totally mismatched with the reality of generation cost.
 

Jaskalas

Lifer
Jun 23, 2004
29,793
3,309
126
It's called phasing it out, rather than cutting our noses off to spite our faces.

As other posters have readily demonstrated, Coal is coming to an end. This is a process, and it takes time.
 

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