A Coal Resurgence in the USA?

The New York Times editorial board has recently reviewed and provided their opinion on the Trump Administration’s efforts to revive the US coal industry. A long-standing promise of Mr. Trump, and a campaign issue that helped him receive votes in key swing states. The NYTimes Editorial Board assesses Mr. Trump’s plans as they have been presented thus far.

The New York Times presents a rather gloomy outlook for the coal sector, and with good reason. Despite the Trump administration’s resolve to remove the US from the Paris climate accords, the market factors still do not favour coal production and generation in the US. Renewable energy technologies are becoming cheaper and cheaper to implement, and other low-cost substitute fuel sources such as Natural Gas are further putting pressure on coal producers.

Under the guise of creating a reliable backbone and making the grid more “resilient” the Trump administration seems to be exploring policies that would keep coal plants running as required spinning reserve to back up shortfalls in renewable energy production when environmental conditions change. This policy appears to overlook scale advantages to renewable power, as well as the fact that coal is not the only fuel source which can function as spinning reserve.

Threatened by cheap imports of renewable energy technology, it is clearly understood that the motives or subsidizing coal are to keep jobs in the US; however, the potential for high-tech jobs in the renewables sphere should also not be overlooked. Lasting renewable energy jobs can be created in the US, even without significant government aid. In essence, the Trump administration will be subsidizing coal; even though it is a dwindling industry.

For the energy sector, coal has become a black sheep. Though it is a technology that is widely used, easily available and relatively inexpensive, the overall trend is showing a decline. Nations other than the US that are heavily reliant on coal are also taking steps to wind down the industry. There will be a future, but not on the scale that this US Administration envisions. Whether it will become apparent during the next election cycle still remains to be seen.