Old King Coal has seen better days. In June, President Obama outlined his intention to stop financing coal plants abroad, and to set emissions limits on coal-fired power plants at levels low enough to essentially prevent new plants from being built. The World Bank followed Obama’s lead and announced that it would cease financing coal projects if other “feasible alternatives” existed.Now, more countries are piling on the anti-coal bandwagon; Norway’s opposition party is pushing for the country’s massive oil wealth fund to divest from its coal holdings, and the UK’s House of Lords voted to extend emissions limits to the country’s old coal-fired power plants. The FT reports:
Peers voted by 237 to 193 in favour of a joint amendment to the energy bill compelling old coal-power stations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. […]At present, these old power stations will not need an “emissions performance standard” (EPS) – which restricts carbon dioxide emissions – because this only applies to newly built ones.However, the Lib Dem amendment – put forward by Lord Teverson, energy spokesman – proposed extending the EPS to old power stations in a move that would make it impossible for them to keep operating at full throttle.
The rationale behind this movement against coal is easy to understand—coal emits large amounts of carbon dioxide and air pollutants into the atmosphere when burned. One needs look no further than China’s recent high-profile struggles with toxic smog to understand the dangers of relying too heavily on the energy source (China burns nearly half of the world’s coal).At the same time, for many countries, coal remains the cheapest option. President Obama was able to move against the coal industry largely thanks to fracking, which has supplied America with a glut of cheap natural gas (gas that emits roughly half the carbon as coal when burned). But for countries like Britain, which is already struggling with high energy prices, cutting out coal might not be an affordable option. In fact, “green” Europe’s soaring energy costs—largely the result of renewable energy subsidies—have it importing American coal in record quantities. Coal is often the cheapest option in the developing world as well.America hasn’t stopped burning coal altogether; in fact, coal remains one of the most important sources in our nation’s energy mix. Still, thanks to cheap natural gas, coal use is on the decline in the US. That trend will be difficult to imitate elsewhere due to difficulties in replicating America’s success in extracting shale. British politicians and policymakers in Brussels can spout all the anti-coal rhetoric they want, but until they secure a cost-effective replacement, they’ll continue to burn the sooty stuff. Meanwhile, thanks to fracking, the US won’t be finding coal in its stocking this Christmas.[A bulldozer moves coal at Foresight Energy LLC’s Shay coal mine in Carlinville, Illinois, U.S. Photo courtesy of Getty Images]