August 11, 2017 Read More →

‘We Think Coal Is Going to Zero’


Coal-fired power plants employ more people than mines, and they’re shutting down all over the country.

Coal-fired plants employed 86,035 people in the U.S. last year. That may not seem like a huge amount in a country of some 150 million workers but it’s 16 percent more than the number employed at mines, according to the U.S. government. It’s also a younger and more diverse workforce, with women making up more than a third of it, and ethnic minorities about a quarter.

Curiously, they haven’t gotten nearly as much attention as the miners — even though their numbers are shrinking fast. And coal comebacks like the one Trump hailed in Pennsylvania won’t help them. Corsa Coal Corp.’s venture there is digging up metallurgical coal, which is used in steelmaking and often exported.

Most experts expect more plants to shutter as new gas-fired units come online and costs keep plunging for solar and wind power. Some coal plants are being converted to gas, which still involves layoffs because gas generators typically employ about half as many people.

“All the power market people that I know, we all think coal is going to zero,” said Alex Elsik, chief executive officer of Geosol Capital LLC, a Houston-based hedge fund. In the power market that the Chicago plants are part of, the cost of generation with coal is about 50 percent higher than with gas, he said.

The Texas power market is so depressed that all but two of the state’s 15 coal generators are losing money, according to energy-focused investment firm Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. Houston-based Calpine Corp. may be on the verge of a buyout by a private-equity firm, a process that’s kept plants alive in other states, but one that typically leads to staffing cuts. In a sign of how desperate some power companies are to get rid of their beleaguered coal units, they are being offered up at less than 10 percent of replacement cost.

More: No One Is Talking About This Disappearing Coal Job. Not Even Trump

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