There have been a number of news items lately about how coal-fired plant projects are being canceled or deferred (the good news); but so are renewables projects like wind and solar installations (the bad news). But the cause is different. In the case of renewables, the main cause of reduction seems to be the absence of investment capital — last year was great, but now, things are drying up. Coal companies, on the other hand, seem to be responding to the increasing number of roadblocks being encountered in the building of new coal plants.
Two years ago, it was business as usual. But Fred Krupps and Environmental Defense lawyers had a rather major victory last year when they facilitated a reversal in which a planned 11 new coal plants in Texas were scuttled (well 8, actually) in favor of new investments in wind farms. To me, this seemed to be the turning point in the tide; since then a number of coal plant projects have been deferred or scrapped outright … in fact, most of them. During the Presidential campaign, the idea of clean coal was raised by all candidates, but this perhaps clarified the notion that good ol’ regular coal was dirty (which it most definitely is).
Then as “clean coal” kept coming up, some groups started pointing out that clean coal is fantasy. It didn’t help that there were several disasters related to coal ash spills. Frankly no one had really focused on coal ash given that there are so many more horrific aspects of mining coal, like the pleasantly named “mountaintop removal” method. Now all those pesky environmentalists are chaining themselves to machines. And the EPA seems to no longer be the Environmental Plunder Agency and is now back to Protecting. Even the Air Force has scrapped plans to use liquefied coal as a jet fuel. And the US administration is serious about climate change.
There’s a great deal of uncertainty about how the world will shape up for coal, but the future isn’t looking bright. I think while most people acknowledge that it will play an excessively large part in our future, it seems like coal now has a similar taint as nuclear power — whatever the reality of either may be, the popular perception, and numerous groups who keep the image of dirty coal in peoples’ heads are making a real and positive difference.
And to my original point that things were bad for coal as well as for renewables, the issues for coal are bad and getting worse. As coal becomes a less acceptable fuel, other methods of making electricity will look better, including renewables.