Coal’s Final Days

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A coal-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany. The country has pledged to phase out coal by 2038. INA FASSBENDER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for his environmental reporting, and to Yale e360 for this unexpected news that coal is not headed for a renaissance (as some politicians would have us believe):

As Investors and Insurers Back Away, the Economics of Coal Turn Toxic

Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.

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Demolition of the coal-fired Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wisconsin in December 2017. The power plant closed in 2015. NICKI KOHL/TELEGRAPH HERALD VIA AP

Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide.

With the fuel unable to compete in most places with natural gas, nuclear, and renewables, the mining and burning of coal is increasingly toxic economically as well as environmentally. Coal mines are becoming “stranded assets” — unlikely ever to pay off the costs of their development. The risks for financiers are becoming too great.

Now, even insurance companies are refusing to underwrite coal-fired power plants and coal mining ventures. And without insurance, say gleeful climate campaigners, coal is dead.

Coal burning worldwide fell a further 3 percent last year, the biggest decline yet from a peak in 2013. That trend is unlikely to change. The number of new coal plants that began construction worldwide fell by 84 percent between 2015 and 2018, according to NGOs tracking the demise. Across the developed world, coal’s contribution to keeping the lights on is in freefall.

Despite the Trump administration’s dismissal of the climate crisis, the U.S. is proving no exception. Twelve years ago, 45 percent of U.S. electricity was generated by burning coal. The figure is now 24 percent and falling fast. Since Trump arrived in the White House, 39,000 megawatts of coal-burning power plants have been retired across the U.S. and none commissioned. Starved of markets, eight U.S. coal mining companies filed for bankruptcy last year. They included the largest surviving private company, Murray Energy, owned by Robert Murray, a prominent Trump backer.

Read the whole story here.

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