Even independently of the Obama administration’s policies, the U.S. energy grid has been undergoing some major shifts in the past few years. As the shale revolution has gained steam and natural gas has become more abundant, the proportion of electricity we get from coal has decreased while the role of viable-substitute natural gas has gotten bigger. Many defenders of the Obama administration’s incoming regulations for new and existing coal-fired power plants point to this ongoing market shift as part of their rationale, arguing that the transition to cleaner-burning natural gas is happening anyway and that all these regulations are just hurrying things along a bit for the sake of the climate — but the regulations are also ensuring that a swing back to coal can’t happen even if the market wanted it to. For instance, what if an extra-cold winter sent demand (and thus, prices) for natural gas unusually high; or if, say, a region like New England was lacking the pipeline network it would take to transport the necessary quantities of gas to keep everyone’s homes heated? You know, like — now?
Via The Hill:
The drawn out arctic blast has the U.S. turning to coal.
As natural gas prices reach a four-year high due to the strain the cold has put on gas pipelines, utilities are shifting to coal to pump out 4.519 million megawatt-hours a day.
Coal’s share of energy production in the U.S. might climb to 40.3 percent from 39 percent last year. And the U.S. is on track for its coldest winter in more than 30 years through January, giving rise to the less expensive energy source.
“The idea of coal disappearing is not an effective climate change policy,” said John Thompson, an analyst at the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force told Bloomberg News. “Coal use is growing.”
Yes, coal use is growing — much like in Germany, where their determination to speedily stamp out fossil-fuel based energy sources in fact directly resulted in the country burning more coal. Is it me, or is anybody else picking up on a pattern in which governmental attempts at top-down market manipulation often end in either counterproductivity and/or disaster?
But the coal industry and its supporters in Congress are sounding the alarm. They note that many of the older coal-fired power plants that have helped fill the gap this winter are due to shut down next year because of the Obama administration’s environmental rules.
“What happens … when that capacity is gone?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked this week at a gathering of utility regulators in Washington. “Maybe we won’t have cold periods like we’re seeing next year [and] we’ll be OK. But what kind of a policy is that? A hope and a prayer?”