Plant’s end symbol of troubled coal industry
DRAKESBORO, Ky. — President Trump tried to stop it from happening. The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, did, too.
Despite their best efforts to make good on Trump’s campaign promise to save the beleaguered coal industry, including an 11thhour pressure campaign, the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant at Paradise burned its final load of coal last month.
The plant’s closure — in a county that once mined more coal than any other in the nation — is emblematic of the industry’s decadeslong decline due to tougher environmental regulations, a major push toward renewable energy and a rise in the extraction of natural gas. The shuttering of businesses nationwide and a reduced need for energy amid the global coronavirus pandemic threatens to deal coal yet another devastating blow.
“It’s not just one 1,000megawatt unit closing; they’re going down all over the place,” said John Rogers, a former mine owner who lives in western Kentucky near the Paradise plant, located in Muhlenberg County.
When coalburning plants close, coal mining loses its best customer. Since 2010, 500 coalburning units, or boilers, at power plants have been shut down and nearly half the nation’s coal mines have closed. No U.S. energy company, big or small, is building a new coalburning plant.
Employment in the U.S. coal industry is the lowest in decades. Coal mine jobs have dropped by nearly 50% in the past decade to about 50,000 — a far cry from the 900,000 workers who were digging in coal mines when the industry hit its peak in the 1920s.
Electric utilities are telling investors and customers that coal costs too much, mostly because of the money it costs to offset environmental effects, such as the release of carbon dioxide. Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, informed its clients in January that it would no longer invest in companies that get more than 25% of their revenue from burning coal.
Electric utilities — and their customers — have instead embraced renewable energy and cleanerburning gas burned in combined cycle plants, which have a smaller footprint and about a tenth of the workers of a coal plant. One such plant opened in the Paradise plant complex in 2017.
“I saw the decision to proceed with the retirement of Paradise … as a sign that both the markets and the American people have turned so strongly away from coal,“said Mary Anne Hitt, who leads the Sierra Club’s campaign to end the use of coal.
The Tennessee Valley Authority power plant at Paradise burned its final load of coal last month. Mining jobs have dropped by nearly 50% in the past decade.