A recent report shows that the coal industry is beset by more than just tougher environmental rules. Simple market forces also are cutting into the industry’s favored status as the nation’s chief fuel for fulfilling the nation’s electricity needs.
The message for such coal-producing states as West Virginia and Kentucky is that efforts to diversify their economies are more important than ever.
A report spelled out how coal is expected to be used to generate about 38 percent of the nation’s electricity this year. That’s no paltry share and is still the most popular way to fuel the nation’s power plants.
However, just four years ago, coal was used to generate 50 percent of the nation’s power, meaning that the country is becoming less reliant on coal.
No doubt, tougher environmental rules, particularly ones scheduled to go into effect in coming years, are partly responsible for this shift. But that’s not all. Perhaps just as big an influence now is the relatively cheap cost of natural gas, which is expected to fuel 29 percent of the nation’s power this year compared with only about 20 percent in 2008. Natural gas prices have fallen sharply in recent years as producers have found ways to tap into abundant reserves. Natural gas also is a cleaner fuel, and more power plants are shifting to natural gas because of price and the stricter environmental rules. …
Of course, West Virginia also is trying to reap benefits from the growing natural gas industry, particularly as it relates to the Marcellus Shale gas deposits throughout a good part of the state. That strategy should continue. However, relying on natural gas alone to shore up the state’s economy isn’t sufficient. After all, the current low natural gas prices may put a damper on how fast the natural gas industry will develop in the state.
That’s why the state should continue working hard to attract or develop other employers in a broad range of industries, whether it be an automotive plant such as the Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia plant in Buffalo or the new Macy’s distribution center in the Martinsburg area.
Energy-related industries, whether coal or natural gas, will continue to play significant roles in West Virginia’s economy, but those alone won’t be enough to move the state forward toward more prosperity.
— Distributed by The Associated Press