America’s coal industry has come a long way over the years, deploying innovative new technologies to curb environmental impacts. The price of coal-fired electricity has remained low, and coal is an abundant and reliable source of domestic energy. Even with this solid track record, America’s coal industry is facing a new wave of challenges that were defining themes during the Coal-Gen conference which took place this week in Louisville, Kentucky.
Pierre Gauthier, Alstom’s President for the U.S. and Canada, addressed the state of the industry during his opening keynote speech on Wednesday, August 15th. Joining speakers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Louisville Gas and Electric and engineering firm Burns and McDonnell, Gauthier cited how coal companies have adapted to past waves of regulation with scrubber technologies that lowered emissions of certain hazardous substances.
Commenting on pressure from low natural gas prices, he went on to acknowledge unconventional gas as a ‘game changer’ but cautioned that, “given generous domestic supplies, coal-fired generation must become a base load ‘hedge’ – an insulator to protect American consumers against volatile swings in the price of other energy sources. When – not if – the market shifts, Americans must be able to rely on coal for reliable, affordable electricity.”
Looking ahead, Gauthier went on to cite the key difference between today’s reality, and past challenges the coal industry his overcome.
“What makes today truly unique,” he said, “is that for the first time, we find ourselves in a situation where regulation has forced coal into a competition with natural gas. That competition revolves around one word – carbon.”
Pierre’s emphasized the importance of advancing development of commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to ensure the industry has technology ‘ready to roll’ as soon as new restrictions on CO2 emissions take effect.
Echoing a recent challenge by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, Gauthier encouraged the Coal-Gen audience to “Lean Aggressively Into the Future” by investing in the development of CCS processes and looking to natural gas plant operators as potential partners in preparing for the realities of a carbon-constrained energy market.
Why? To ensure that coal continues in its role as the affordable, reliable foundation of American electricity.