Michael Blumberg’s charity Blumberg philanthropies recently made a 50 million dollar donation to the nation’s largest environmental group, the Sierra Club. The full amount is expected to be used to help bolster funding for the beyond coal campaign, an initiative striving to end coal based power generation in the US. The organization appears to be finding success. In March of 2011 Beyond Coal was instrumental in helping negotiate an agreement between TransAlta and Washington’s governor that will shut down a 1600MW coal plant by 2025. (1) This just the latest in a growing number of forces working against coal use in the US. In December of 2011 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new regulations that will require coal power plants to reduce emissions of mercury, arsenic and cyanide by 2014. EPA estimates suggest the measure could “prevent 11,000 premature deaths per year and 4,700 heart attacks, as well as thousands of cases of asthma and bronchitis.” (2) The Associative press reports compliance with the measure will be prohibitively expensive for many power plants and suggest as many as 36 coal fired power plants will close as a result. (3)
At the same time natural gas prices continue to decline in the face of large increases in domestic production (Kyle Cooper of IAF Energy Advisors was recently quoted as saying “barring a new Ice Age” $2/mmBtu gas would be here soon) (4). The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2012 annual energy outlook predicts gas-generated electricity will rise from 24 to 27 percent of total US power generation by 2035; with coals share dropping from 45 percent to 39 percent during the same period. (5) With the continued development of shale gas reservoirs domestic natural gas production is projected to triple in the next 25 years, with the expectation that much of the produced gas will be exported. The EIA report suggests the US will be a net exporter of natural gas by 2021. (6)
The tides appear to be turning on big coal. Environmentalist groups are making headway and new emissions regulations are being put into law. What if this momentum were to continue? In light of increasingly cheap gas, significant domestic production and interest by increasingly well-funded groups in a more environmentally friendly alternative to coal natural gas may well be the successor to coal for base power production in the United States.