President Trump won states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio with his promised to bring coal back from the brink of death. And so far, he’s kept his promise by rolling back regulations that have crippled the industry over the past 8 years. With its “dirty” reputation, coal is often under fire and seems to be the first on the chopping block when it comes to moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables.
But should we be moving away from coal right now?
Many say that clean natural gas is the bridge from old and dirty to new and clean. And while I won’t argue against the use of natural gas, it’s simply not a matter of saying, “OK! Let’s use natural gas from now on!”
Yes, natural gas has a lot of things going for it. It’s used for roughly 26% of our current electricity generation in the US and it’s also a very valuable resource with multiple uses beyond electricity generation. And with the revival of shale gas wells recently, it’s relatively affordable. However, it has two major drawbacks.
- Natural gas reserves are about half of that in our coal reserves.
- Natural gas continues to experience volatile pricing.
These two facts make it hard to simply drop coal like a hot potato. Coal is more than twice as plentiful as natural gas, and only about 1/3 the cost. On average over the past 15 years natural gas has averaged $5.75/MMBTU and Coal has only averaged $1.5/MMBTU. And then when you throw in the fact that natural gas prices have varied between $1.94/MMBTU (in 2012) to a high of $10.79/MMBTU (in 2008) it makes budgeting, investing and planning difficult for everyone involved.
While it’s not the perfect solution, it’s getting cleaner and for now it gives us a pretty good bang for our buck. It is domestically-sourced, secure, affordable and abundant. Everything we want in an energy source.