With so many coal mining companies closing–most which are directly citing Obama’s “War on Coal”–I decided it was time to consult with an expert to learn more about the coal industry.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but most of the information I know about coal mining has been relegated to movies such as Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter and embarrassingly, Zoolander. Like many Americans, I think of coal as something archaic, used only by characters in A Christmas Carol or by Santa Claus when you’re naughty.
Because of Barack Obama’s seemingly vindictive War on Coal (to go along with his wars on class, race, women etc…) I went to my friend and leading expert on all-things-fossil fuel, Chris Skates.
I first became aware of Chris about a year ago after I read and reviewed his book, Going Green, For Some It Has Nothing To Do With The Environment. Since then, Chris and I have not only become friends, but I also introduced him to my sister-site, PatriotUpdate.com where he is now a columnist. Chris is currently a Plant Chemistry Supervisor at a Midwest Utility with 23 years experience in both fossil fueled and nuclear power generation. He has published technical papers and has obliged PolitiChicks.tv with the following exclusive interview.
A-M: Let’s get right into the coal mining issue. As I told you, my knowledge of coal is very limited. Is coal still an important resource? What is it primarily used for in America?
CS: Yes it is a critically important resource. Despite all the negativity you hear in the news these days about coal. And despite the “war on coal” (which is real), coal still provides 57% of our nation’s power. It could easily provide 100% if we were so inclined. The resource is that abundant. In my opinion as a Chemist we are very foolish not to take advantage of the blessings of this abundant resource.
A-M: One of the issues that Democrats continually push is that coal is “dirty”, bad for the environment and needs to be replaced with alternative energy sources. Are you and others against this?
CS: Well, I am certainly not against a clean environment. The thing is, I don’t accept their premise. You are exactly correct in the way that you state the environmentalist point of view. In fact, I personally have heard them say, “Coal is dirty”. That is a very broad and generalized statement. Is pollution emitted when coal is burned? Certainly. But what is the alternative. Well, one alternative is that we all stop using electricity. That is not realistic. Electricity has significantly improved our quality of life. I would propose that electricity and the devices it powers have saved lives. So then if we accept at face value that we MUST have electricity, the only question left is from what source?
The contention that solar, wind, algae etcetera can supply this nations massive energy needs is ridiculous on its face. Despite claims by environmentalists, solar currently only provides .09% of our needs. That is not because not enough money has been spent on it, it is because the source is far too inefficient and expensive.
So realistic alternatives are coal, nuclear, and gas. Fracking is changing the face of our energy sector very rapidly. We have enormous reserves of natural gas available by fracking. What we don’t have is an energy infrastructure that can adequately use this resource. Likewise, there is still much to learn about fracking safety.
Nuclear has its own unique set of environmental challenges, namely, what to do with spent fuel. New theoretical technologies for reactors are very promising and could offset the challenge of radioactive waste. But again they are not ready yet.
So if we look at things pragmatically, any source of energy that is capable of producing the energy we must have, could be deemed as “dirty”. There are some tradeoffs we must allow for if we are going to have energy available. I frequently say when I am asked to speak somewhere. We can have a clean environment AND economic development. However, we cannot afford a pristine environment. The human cost is too high.
Ultimately the pollution from coal plants has already been reduced by orders of magnitude when compared to plants in say, China. We can generate all the cheap, reliable, safe power that this country wants and we can generate it all from our vast coal resource. We just have to be allowed to do so.
A-M: What are other countries doing regarding their coal plants? Are nations that compete with us abandoning coal?
CS: That’s a timely question. Our chief competitor, China, built a new coal generating plant every month last year! That’s 12 very large coal plants that were started up. And not one of them has the multi-million dollar pollution control equipment installed that we use on our plants. Ironically, we are exporting large amounts of our coal resource to China. So China burns the coal anyway and with less pollution controls. Then China reaps the economic benefits or OUR resource.
A-M: Obama and others have said straight up that energy prices would “necessarily skyrocket” if we were to start using alternative energy sources. Why is this, and would that actually happen (prices would skyrocket)?
CS: Yes they will. It is simply supply side economics. We are on a path to shut down 1.9 Gigawatts of coal generation by the spring of 2013. That means less supply. Now right now you may not notice that as a consumer. But let us assume that we get what we all want. Let us assume that the economy comes roaring back. Then demand goes up. At that time we will not have adequate supplies because so many coal plants have been abandoned.
Or let’s look at another possible scenario. If we insist on forcing a rapid change to alternative energy, then we have enormous capital expenditures ahead of us. The infrastructure to implement these sources of energy does not exist. It will costs trillions to get them built in time to meet demand. Those capital expenditures will be paid by you the consumer.
All of this is avoidable. We have the infrastructure and the plants to generate with coal. We just have to be allowed to do so. The cost increase to the consumer will either go away or be a fraction of these other alternatives.
A-M: For the past month or so you have been giving testimony in hearings regarding the coal industry. Tell us about your involvement with that—what are you testifying about and who is leading the case against the coal industry?
CS: So interesting that you asked me that question today. I have been asked to testify in two hearings in two separate states. In both cases the question before those state boards (boards that set state environmental policy), was whether or not those boards should allow utilities some breathing room when it comes to environmental regulations.
The environmentalists would have you believe that these utilities are greedy, that they don’t care about the environment and that they only want to get out of complying with environmental laws. This is not an accurate premise.
The truth is, so many regulations have been published in recent years that utilities are literally drowning in regulations. Your readers should understand. Each regulation represents multi-million dollar expenditures for the coal plants. So many of these expensive regulations have come out, that plants are literally going broke and having to close.
In the two cases that I have been involved in, the utility has been asking for a few extra years before they have to meet the latest regulations. That allows them to spread the expense over 4 or 5 extra years. In that way, more of them can survive.
Interestingly, I got an email while doing this interview, that one utility was granted the extension. So there is hope.
To learn more about Chris Skates please visit his website, ChrisSkates.com.