Speakers at Thursday’s Coal Forum discussing a WVU study predicting a continued longterm decline in the state’s coal industry, the possibility of converting coal into transport fuels and updates on coal-fired power from power plants.
The West Virginia Coal Forum presented 2017 and Beyond Thursday at the Culture Center with future meetings planned in Wheeling, Logan and Bluefield.
The Coal Forum represents business and labor in the coal industry. It was created in 1986 under the direction of the West Virginia Legislative Committee on Coal Mining. The body was created to establish a forum for the coal industry to resolve issues affecting the it. It also provides a way for management and labor leaders to develop legislative issues and programs to promote the coal industry.
West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney told the assembly that while he doesn’t dispute the theory presented in the WVU study, in his view, the study didn’t adequately address the regulatory environment.
“It talked about that in the end of the report but we have had substantial impact to operations here,” Raney said of regulations. “The Obama administration did all to diminish the use of coal in this country and the mining of it. I wished it mentioned more than that.”
Coal Production in West Virginia: 2017-2040, released Wednesday, is produced annually by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research in the College of Business and Economics at WVU. The report said a decrease in demand for West Virginia coal will continue and by 2030, will lead to output shrinking below 80 million tons, which is what coal mine output totaled last year.
The report said several factors affect coal production, including declining use of coal by domestic power plants — which the report says is linked to timing of low natural gas prices and stricter emissions standards — weak export demand and declining productivity from southern West Virginia coal seams.
It also said the state experienced steeper decreases in coal production compared to other major coal-producing states, although only a few states avoided double-digit drops in coal output last year.
Raney also disputed that the state produced 80 million tons of coal. He said the state did 88 million and said if that number is annualized, to comes to 102 million.
“I’m hopeful we will be able to annualize that and come somewhere north of 100 million tons,” Raney said. “If we do that, it keeps our folks working.”
Richard Wolfe, managing director for Virginia Carbonite LLC, spoke Thursday talked about converting coal into transport fuels, which he said has been done in South Africa for 50 years. He said he wants to meet with the governor to discuss this possibility and select possible sites for such a plant.
“This is a new market for coal,” Wolfe said. “We’ve got the foundation here in West Virginia to become a leader of the nation putting coal into new fuels cleanly and environmentally acceptable. One of these days, hopefully in the next three to four years, there will be a plant operating and we will drive cars on gas and diesel from coal.”
American Electric Power’s Jeri Matheney talked about the statement by firm’s president that there would be no new coal plants. She said there are several reasons he made that statement.
She said the first is that there hasn’t been a coal plant built in West Virginia for about 40 years.
She also said coal use decreases over the next few years. She said coal is still the primary source of energy in West Virginia. Matheney said right now, coal is 61 percent of capacity but it decreases to 51 percent by 2031.
She said another reason is that electricity demand is down, except for two counties in West Virginia.
“Big plants do have enough generation right now for the first time in decades,” she said. “It’s really hard to get used to when you’ve lived your whole life with electric demand growing. It’s hard to get used to the fact that we’re not growing. There are pockets growing in the D.C. Metro area and two counties in our territory are growing — Marshall and Ohio counties, where gas development is taking place.”
She said part of the reason demand is down is because gas prices are down so companies are making the choice to use gas plants.
She also noted that natural gas and wind are low in cost when it comes to building plants and costs to operate. She said in the future, she could see using gas plants more and adding wind and possibly solar to the mix. She said down the road, she also could see battery storage as a possibility as well.
Jeff Keffer, chief executive of Longview Power, said his coal-fired plant, which is less than 5 years old, is low-emission and high-efficiency, and produces enough power for 700,000 homes.
“I believe there is a robust future for coal-fired generation in the U.S. especially here in West Virginia,” he said.