R.F. Hemphill is a Global Executive; Solar Power Expert; World Traveler and Author.
Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton is not an energy expert. She probably has some such person on her campaign staff, but she didn’t need them when she told the unfortunate truth to a West Virginia audience. She said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.“
This occurred at a round table forum in March in Kentucky, hosted by CNN. The statement was made in the context of proposing to replace these jobs with renewable energy jobs, and was not made as a policy prescription, more as a statement of fact.
Was she right? What is the future of coal in the US, and more broadly in the world?
It is not easy to make a case for the coal mining (and burning) industry. Coal mostly is used in electric power plants, and has been historically for a hundred and thirty-four years, since Thomas Edison built the first electric plant, the Pearl Street station in downtown Manhattan, in 1882.
Using coal as a fuel has advantages: the combustion technology is straight-forward, it is far easier to burn coal in large boilers and move the electricity around than it is to have coal deliveries to every home and business with a small furnace. It is plentiful; there is a huge reserve available in the US, and much in a number of other countries. There has never been an “OPEC of coal” because of this dispersion of the resource. But over time the disadvantages have begun to chip away at the market.
Let’s start with production. Being a coal miner is a dirty, damp and dangerous occupation, particularly underground mining. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mining is the second most dangerous occupation in America. And just to answer the obvious question, depending on how you calculate, either commercial fishermen or loggers hold the prize for most dangerous US job.
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