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Markets Rule, Regardless

March 29, 2017

PV Magazine:

While Trump is telling coal miners that he will put an end to the war on coal, the mythology that he is lulling them with – that the death of their industry comes primarily from federal regulation – is not going to save their jobs.

According to an analysis by Bloomberg based on U.S. Department of Energy data, there were over 131,000 coal mining jobs in 1990, and less than 66,000 in 2015 – a fall of nearly half. Coal mining jobs fell below 100,000 in the 1990s, and during the first term of Barack Obama  coal mining jobs were actually growing.

This is compared to the over 260,000 jobs in the solar industry – jobs which Donald Trump did not address, and appears unconcerned with.

Furthermore, the president’s executive order will assist, not stop, the real thing that is destroying coal jobs – cheap natural gas. During the last 20 years the United States has built a massive fleet of gas-fired power plants, which have overtaken coal as the largest supplier of power as renewable energy grows to a mere 15% of U.S. electricity generation.

Trump’s lies regarding reviving coal mining jobs are so transparently false that even coal CEOs are publicly dismissing them, with Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray telling the Guardian that “he can’t brink them back.”

The coal executives aren’t the only ones throwing cold water on the Trumpian fantasies. Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), said the coal industry especially remains unlikely to recover, regardless of what the administration does.

“Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue,” Sanzillo said. “Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.”

IEEFA research indicates momentum is all but unstoppable in a global energy transition that has brought structural change to coal markets and that has driven U.S. consumption of coal down 27% since 2005, from 1.02 billion tons to 739 million tons in 2016, its lowest level in almost 40 years.

The outlook for U.S. coal remains dim, and will continue to be shaped by five forces in particular in 2017:

  • Coal production declining by as much as 40 million tons.
  • Coal prices failing to increase enough to benefit shareholder or stimulate new investment.
  • Coal exports remaining weak.
  • Little or no gain from regulatory relief as capital continues its flight from coal.
  • Increasingly dim employment prospects.

“Our research finds no U.S. utility adding now or in the future to its coal-fired rate based. This trend will continue to cripple the coal industry and it will unfortunately bring further economic distress to communities that rely on coal mining,” Sanzillo said. “The new energy economy brings opportunity, however, and localities and regions that are in transition require and welcome forward-looking investment now.”

He said likewise the administration’s reversal of a moratorium on taxpayer-subsidizes federal leases to coal companies will not affect core trends.

“We see zero impact on employment.”

Trump executive order based on energy fantasies

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