From Britain to China, Old King Coal has served as a primary source of energy since at least as far back as the Bronze Age. Coal-fueled energy has brought the people of the world light, transportation, heat, and massive industrial development. After thousands of years of work, however, signs suggest that this particular fuel monarch may be readying for retirement.
What are the signs? In 2016, the world’s largest (private-sector) coal company, Peabody Energy, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Since then, more and more energy companies have shut down their coal-fired plants. Consumers Energy (Michigan) closed 7 of their 12 plants in 2016, with the rest planned for closure by 2040. The Navajo Generating Station (based in Arizona, and the largest coal-fired plant in the United States) is planned for closure by 2019. We Energies, Wisconsin’s largest utility, had a particularly striking transition: until just a few years ago, Wisconsin got more than 50% of its energy sourced from coal, and now they’re shutting down their coal plant and building the state’s largest solar array instead.
There are indicators of the old monarch’s retirement beyond just bankruptcies and plant closures. Banks are no longer eager to finance new coal projects. Natural gas is replacing coal as a primary source of energy around United States. And even China, which has invested in coal as a primary energy source for their recent massive national developments, has seen its use of coal drop since at least 2016.
One place coal has made gains recently? Black lung disease rates are on the rise.
For about a decade now, it’s been the worst of times for coal in the energy sector. Old King Coal is tired. His retirement, however, may bring tidings of better times for the new generations committed to reducing greenhouse emissions and increasing green energy consumption.
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