Why coal is Num­ber One

The ‘boom­ing’ so­lar en­ergy field ac­counts for only one per­cent of Amer­i­can power pro­duc­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Stephen Moore

Quick: what was the num­ber one source of elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion in the U.S. dur­ing the first half of 2017? If you an­swered re­new­able en­ergy, you are wrong by a mile. If you an­swered nat­u­ral gas, you were wrong by a tiny amount.

Ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (EIA), which tracks en­ergy use in pro­duc­tion on a monthly ba­sis, the sin­gle largest source of elec­tric power for the first half of 2017 was . . . coal.

That’s an amaz­ing find­ing be­cause lib­er­als and es­pe­cially en­vi­ron­men­tal groups keep telling us that coal is a dead in­dus­try. They have ridiculed Don­ald Trump, and called him a liar, when he has said that he will re­vive the coal in­dus­try and the re­lated jobs. “Coal Isn’t Com­ing Back,” a New York Times piece as­sured us a few weeks after the elec­tion. “Sav­ing coal is one prom­ise he (Trump) won’t be able to keep,” the au­thor pre­dicted. The Fi­nan­cial Times was even more blunt in its head­line last month: “Coal Is Dead; Long Live the Sun.”

Let’s see if the left is­sues a re­trac­tion. Don’t hold your breath.

Ac­cord­ing to the EIA’s July re­port, “EIA es­ti­mates that the share of to­tal U.S. gen­er­a­tion fu­eled by nat­u­ral gas dur­ing the first half of this year av­er­aged 29 per­cent ... In con­trast, coal’s share of gen­er­a­tion rose from 28 per­cent in the first half of 2016 to 30 per­cent in first half of 2017.” For the full year 2017, EIA es­ti­mates that coal will gen­er­ate 3.453 mil­lion kilo­watts per day, while nat­u­ral gas, be­cause of a rise in its re­tail price this year, will gen­er­ate a hair less, or 3.432 mil­lion kilo­watts. Wind and so­lar re­main niche sources of en­ergy pro­vid­ing about one­sev­enth as much power as coal and gas.

That’s not all. The Depart­ment of Com­merce’s Bureau of Eco­nomic Anal­y­sis re­leased July 21, 2017, reports that “min­ing in­creased 21.6 per­cent… The first quar­ter growth pri­mar­ily re­flected in­creases in oil and gas ex­trac­tion, as well as sup­port ac­tiv­i­ties for min­ing. This was the largest increase since the fourth quar­ter of 2014.” No other ma­jor Amer­i­can in­dus­try had such gains and across all in­dus­tries out­put was up less than 2 per­cent.

As for the drilling and min­ing in­dus­tries, they have gained more than 50,000 jobs since President Trump’s elec­tion with 8,000 added in June alone. Many of these were in the oil and gas in­dus­try, but some were in coal, whose out­put has in­creased 12 per­cent this year.

Lib­er­als com­plain that coal ac­tiv­ity isn’t a ma­jor pro­ducer of jobs be­cause the in­dus­try is pro­duc­ing a lot more coal with a lot fewer workers. That is ab­so­lutely true. Ladies and gen­tle­men, that is called pro­duc­tiv­ity. A new study by the In­sti­tute for En­ergy Re­search points out that it takes wind and so­lar at least 30 times more man hours to pro­duce a kilo­watt of elec­tric­ity than are re­quired to pro­duce that same en­ergy from coal or oil. If you don’t think this pro­duc­tiv­ity ad­van­tage of fos­sil fu­els is a good thing, then you prob­a­bly think we should bring farm jobs back by abol­ish­ing trac­tors and mod­ern farm equip­ment.

But coal jobs are not just tied to the ac­tual min­ing of coal. Coal is tied to steel jobs, truck­ing jobs, and man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs. Us­ing cheap and ef­fi­cient en­ergy makes ev­ery other Amer­i­can in­dus­try more pro­duc­tive, and thus makes Amer­i­can em­ploy­ers far more com­pet­i­tive in global mar­kets. Pro­duc­tiv­ity cre­ates higher pay­ing jobs in Amer­ica, it doesn’t de­stroy them.

We are not the only coun­try that is us­ing a lot more coal. Of all places, The New York Times reports that “Chi­nese com­pa­nies are build­ing or plan­ning to build more than 700 new coal plants at home and around the world, some in coun­tries that burn lit­tle or no coal....” In­dia is build­ing hun­dreds more.

Does any of this sound like the last gasps of an in­dus­try that is “dead?” The rea­son these na­tions are turn­ing to coal and nat­u­ral gas is very sim­ple: price and re­li­a­bil­ity. On both mea­sures fos­sil fu­els are much more ef­fi­cient than wind and so­lar gen­er­a­tion. Here and abroad so­lar and wind only sur­vive due to mas­sive gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies that mask the real cost. For all the talk of the “boom­ing” so­lar en­ergy field, it ac­counts for one per­cent of Amer­i­can power pro­duc­tion.

Amaz­ing that even with the tens of bil­lions of dol­lars of sub­si­dies to tilt the play­ing field away from fos­sil fu­els and reg­u­la­tions meant to kill them, they are still flour­ish­ing as never be­fore. Stephen Moore is a se­nior fel­low at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion and an eco­nomic con­sul­tant at Free­dom Works. His lat­est book is “Fu­el­ing Free­dom: Ex­pos­ing the Mad War Against En­ergy” (Reg­n­ery 2016).

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