Power shift

07.19.17

Not long ago, coal provided 98% of the electricity for the pulp-and-paper mills and iron-ore producers around the western edge of Lake Superior, as well as the nearby city of Duluth, Minn. That was 2005. Today, coal use is plunging, and by 2025, it is expected to power just one-third of this region, reports the Wall Street Journal.

This is an extreme example of the transition happening across the U.S. power grid. Natural gas, wind and solar power are expanding rapidly, while electricity generation from coal and nuclear reactors is shrinking.

The transition comes as the Trump administration has signaled it would like to help coal make a comeback. In June, President Donald Trump said he wanted to “revive and expand our nuclear-energy sector” and announced a policy review.

Because U.S. power demand isn’t growing, promoting coal and nuclear power would come at the expense of gas and renewables — and vice versa. This has set up a power-grid showdown: Will new federal policies bring back coal and nukes, or will gas and renewables continue to grab market share?

Gas, wind and solar now meet 40% of U.S. power needs, up from 22% a decade ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As gas and renewables have grown, coal, the mainstay of American electricity generation for decades, has been under enormous economic pressure the past few years. Three of every 10 coal generators has closed permanently in the past five years. (Source: The Wall Street Journal)


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