IEA predicts ‘decade of stagnation’ for coal markets

COAL STAGNATION — Even as coal producers continue mining throughout the Upper Ohio Valley, the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicts a “decade of stagnation” for the industry. -- Casey Junkins

WHEELING — The International Energy Agency does not believe President Trump’s plans to overturn Obama-era environmental regulations will do much to bolster coal markets, as the Paris-based organization predicts a “decade of stagnation” in demand for the carbon-rich mineral.

The agency predicts that by 2022, coal will account for just 36 percent of global electricity generation, which officials said would be the lowest share on record since the agency began keeping statistics in 1974.

Amid new concerns coal executives express about further power plant closures, hope remains in the form of new carbon capture and clean coal technologies, which may satisfy the environmental concerns of some in the global community.

“Indeed, without carbon capture, utilization and storage, coal use will be seriously constrained in the future,” Keisuke Sadamori, IEA director for energy markets and security, said.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that nearly all power plants retired in the nation from 2008-17 were powered by fossil fuels, with a substantial percentage of these run by coal. On June 1, 2015, American Electric Power turned off enough coal-fired wattage to illuminate up to 5.5 million homes, including the former Kammer Plant in Marshall County.

The IEA states global coal demand should be 5,530 metric tons per year by 2022, which is the same average as the last five-year period. This occurs as more electricity generation facilities designed to run on natural gas, wind, solar, hydropower and other methods enter service, or are at least in the planning stages.

“The energy system is evolving at a rapid pace all around us, with a more diversifying fuel mix, and the cost of technologies going down,” Sadamori said. “But while everything else is changing, global coal demand remains the same.”

Although coal demand grew in India and other nations in Southeast Asia during 2016, demand fell in the U.S., China and the European Union. The EU, accounting today for just 6 percent of global demand, is set to become an increasingly marginal player because of stringent environmental standards.

“This serves as a critical reminder why technologies like carbon capture, utilization and storage are so important, and why governments and companies need to step up their policy support and investments in that sector in order to meet global climate goals,” Sadamori added.

According to the London-based Carbon Capture and Storage Association, the technology allows facilities to harness up to 90 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, preventing the gas from entering the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is then transported by pipeline or by ship for safe storage.

However, Murray Energy Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Robert Murray — who operates the largest privately owned coal company in the U.S. via facilities such as the Century Mine, the Ohio County Mine and the Marshall County Mine — remains skeptical of carbon capture.

Recently, Murray said the Trump administration must do several things to support the coal industry, including “develop clean coal combustion technologies, but not carbon capture and sequestration, which is neither practical nor economic.”

“High energy, low emission, coal-fired combined cycle, and other technology deserve government support of their development,” Murray added of programs he believes the government should embrace.