Chris Hamilton’s op-ed, “W.Va. coal: back to the future,” is unrealistic, at best, when current economic facts of job growth and energy costs are studied.
The burning of coal to produce electricity must end, to stop global carbon emissions that cause our planetary, life-threatening climate change crisis. Moreover, the reality is that coal is now nowhere even close to being cost competitive.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the largest public utility in the country, just signed a 20-year, fixed-price contract for solar power at $0.03 per kilowatt hour. Electricity generated at our local, coal-fired John Amos plant costs $0.14 kWh.
Around the globe, utilities are shutting down coal-fired power plants and transitioning initially to gas but then to even lower-cost renewable fuels.
My native Province of Ontario government owns the Ontario Power Authority that generates well over 50% of all electric power in Ontario. The Single Payer Universal Health Care system is also in the provincial budget.
In 2003, the Premier of Ontario asked why the health care costs were so high around the Province’s coal-fired power plants. After a two-year detailed study, they concluded that coal was much more costly than all the alternative sources including renewables. In 2005, solar energy was 90% more costly than it is today. The study correctly defined the costs that are normally lost (especially here in West Virginia). It included the taxes that you and I pay for environmental damage and waste cleanup from mining and burning coal.
The province embarked on a transition to lower-cost alternatives by shutting down and dismantling all their coal-fired power plants. It was completed in 2015.
The significance to West Virginia? The OPA was Arch Coal’s biggest customer.
An even bigger economic opportunity: According to the federal Department of Labor, job creation and growth is fastest in the solar industry, compared to all other sectors. These solar jobs are clean and safe, in contrast to underground coal mining.
How to move forward? The West Virginia Legislature needs to join the growth-oriented states that have enacted a power-purchase agreement law that would incentivize homeowners and building owners to install solar power. Even without a PPA, Toyota in Putnam County has committed to have the largest solar installation in the state. Why? Clearly, solar energy is a cost-effective alternative.
The job market future can involve the retraining of coal miners to be solar installation technicians — no small effort. There is no doubt that the transition away from coal will affect those communities where coal is the economic foundation. Policies and support for the transition must be thought through and developed.
We in West Virginia must recognize that, and adapt to, a coal-free, job-creating clean and safe future.