Essential Pittsburgh
4:24 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

What Role Will Coal Play in Pennsylvania's Future?

Credit Joseph A / flickr

Coal has long played an important role in the history of western Pennsylvania. It was coal that was excavated in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh, and then shipped to the city where it was used to power the steel mills.

It made for an effective system of production, but the smog that blanketed the city could turn days into nights.

Following World War II, civic leaders sought to clean up Pittsburgh, and reducing smog was particularly important. That struggle continues today- coal is still a major player in local energy, but the government is still looking to further curtail its pollution.

The EPA announced it’s Clean Power Plan in June, and hearings are being held this week in several U.S. cities. One of those cities is Pittsburgh- the biggest city in Appalachia, the heart of coal country. Environmentalists strongly support the reforms, but plenty of citizens in the region worry about a loss of jobs and an increase in energy prices.

George Ellis, president of the PA Coal Alliance, said that the new regulations could end up shutting down the coal industry.

“If you look at the options that the EPA considers to be the best strategies for emission reductions, and based on projected coal consumption levels provided to the [Department of Environmental Protection] by our electric utilities, to meet the federal regulation targets you're going see a decrease by about 70% by 2030… the annual capacity factor of these plants would be reduced from about 55% to 17%... We’re very concerned about taking coal out of the electric generation portfolio and the impact that it has not only on our jobs and our industries and our workers, but also on electric utility rates and the availability of electric supplies.”

Christina Simone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center, believes just the opposite.

“I think the cost of compliance issue is predicated on a notion that this rule is going to gust us to much money. And I think there’s many ways for us to actually see potential economic gains through energy efficiency which is our least cost resource, and renewable energy, which can actually reduce power prices. … PJM did a study that found increasing renewable energy to 20% or 30% of grid supply can actually reduce wholesale power prices from between $9 billion and $21 billion annually all while having no negative impact to reliability.”