Tag Archives: energy transition

Coal miner’s slaughter

Coal miners’ number fifty thousand across the United States. Backs against the wall, days numbered, the future isn’t included. Hard rock hard times are in a head on collision with the 21st Century.

Musical chairs, the party game favorite, when the music stops everyone is scurries to find an open chair, mining companies are desperate to not be caught holding the bag of debt when the music stops and there’s one more seat missing, one more loser, one more player told to step aside.

In the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains there are men having shots of whiskey after swing shift, to take the edge off. Meth runs rampant in the lunch bucket working class crowd, there are enough fatal fentanyl overdoses to fill a football stadium, divorce rates are holding steady, more and more people don’t bother getting married.

From the pages of Oil City News, “Rocky Mountain Power, notified the Wyoming PSC that it was considering early retirement of several of its coal-fired power units in the state because they are becoming more costly to ratepayers than investing in new renewable energy generation.”

Fossil fuel revenue streams are drying up. Bankruptcy is all a coal mining company can do. Go to court, put the assets into receivership, sell off what you can, hope there’s enough money to deal with the tailing ponds, clean up the surface water, pray you haven’t polluted the ground water, maybe there’s enough money to pay the promised pensions and health care, likely not, like any corporate entity you run the business for profits now, when a mining operation is coming up short you know who’s going to get the shaft?

Lighthouse Resources owns Decker coal mine just north of the Wyoming border in Montana. They’re playing the bankruptcy card. About 150 United Mine Workers Union members are being setup for the deal breaking.

Spring Creek Mine is 16 miles north of Decker. The Navajo Transitional Energy Company, or NTEC in all their infinite wisdom decided to buy this stranded asset. Appears the NTEC’s governing board is packed with executives who didn’t the get the memo, that coal jobs aren’t coming back, the starless rocks got no future, and it is time to stop hating on renewables.

Across the United States the unavoidable fate in the coal baron bankruptcy business is the last 75 coal fired power plants are slated for shutdown. That’ll close most of the mines, some metallurgical coal might hang on for making steel, until green hydrogen comes online, then they’ll shutter those mines too. Until about yesterday forecasts pegged the end of coking coal in 2050, but that estimate is likely to revised, the sharper analysts figure decades sooner.

Pueblo, Colorado has a steel mill coming online, technology is old school, they’ll use coke fuel with some more up to date tooling. New operation will manufacture railway track, figure enough work for 1000 United Steel Workers. Net gain will zero out when they shutter the last of the down on their luck city’s coal fired power plants. Pueblo can’t catch a real break, if ever a place needed to be rescued from the forces of change this Southern Colorado outpost would be a prime candidate.

Bumper sticker sloganeering, the illegitimate brainchild of Frank Luntz focus group tested efforts to smear job losses on climate change policy doesn’t do much to fix our nation in the midst of a major energy transition. Exxon’s kicked off Dow Jones because there is no future for oil, it’s all stranded assets and pattycakes with Putin, and that’s good until it isn’t, can you say plutonium?

Millions of acres devoured by wildfire, category five hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, an ever-expanding population colliding with an ever-decreasing water supply is deserving of our attention.

The insurrection of January 6th was not funded by fossil fuel industry, but Open Secrets estimated that in 2020 Big Oil donated $11million to Democrats and a grand total of $59 million to Republicans. Let that sink in for one hot second. Add banking, pharmaceuticals, health insurance, transnational agriculture, and there’s the consolidated force of special interests gumming up every road in or out of our nation’s capital.

Leadership means getting out in front of the climate emergency. Had our nation only mustered the political will to pass a carbon tax we would have the money in hand to help the United Mine Workers today. The long put off unavoidable moment has arrived, the transition is underway, we can’t afford to blow it now.

winds of change blowing into wyoming

As Time Goes By

Out here on the western frontier, where the deer and the antelope roam there remain 33 coal fueled electric power stations. Wyoming is top mess maker, operating a dozen of these dirty devils. Toss in bait of federal tax subsidies, add lobby shops sprinkling magic money dust and Wyoming can’t put the demon coal habit down even though it takes 700 lbs. of coal to power a 100-watt lightbulb for one year.

Coal burning power stations employs people. A good paying job in Wyoming is a miracle unto itself. Hard to imagine now, but in 1886 Wyoming was the first state in the union to give women the right to vote. There was no choice. Had they not counted the women there were not enough voting men to qualify the state for entry into the United States.

Modern day Wyoming voters have shifted to the right, hard right, to the radical right. Half of Wyoming’s land is owned by “we the people,” a much smaller fraction by the state, and right on schedule the mining, livestock and timber industry all remain discontent by the regulatory restraints regulation places on their activities.

Butting Heads Against the Hard Rock

Outdoorsmen flock to Wyoming for hunting and fishing. Real estate around Jackson Hole is sky high. If you can find happiness in Casper, some do most of the rest struggle, somewhere $200,000 will get you a decent home. Wages for labor are lower than they ought to be. Libertarians pass through their resentments of governance blaming distant bureaucrats for all that ails folks here. Gas, oil and coal subsidies, federal tax dollars, inbound to Wyoming somehow escape libertarian criticism.

Wind power is coming on strong. Measured by megawatts the wind has some distance to go to catch up with coal. Nevertheless Wyoming has a lot of wind, it is renewable, you don’t have to dig it out of the ground, put it on a train, unload the rock onto a conveyor belt, burn it, shoot much of out a smokestack, then find you have no cheap or easy means of getting rid of the coal ash that remains a biohazard to the citizens for decades. You try to bury it one place or another, you go bankrupt trying, while all that free clean abundant wind keeps blowing free and easy past higher priced fossil fuel by leaps and bounds.

Politically even if coal, gas and oil are losing the fight against renewables for producing the cleanest, cheapest energy money can buy it still is causing economic disruptions that all of us will need to address. January 6th, 2021 matters in this calculation. Coal plants are going to be shut down, wind and solar facilities are going to be opened. The largest coal power plants employ 100’s of people that are going to lose jobs. This is steady work at a good pay rate. Coal provides a community with economic stability.

Emptiness- My Beautiful Reward

Bigger financial institutions are the most frequent players in the funding of generating stations. There is good reason. A bank can plug numbers into a spread sheet, this many megawatts, produced night and day, twenty-four-seven, year in and year out, ratepayers with almost no other choice than to take what they can get, works out on paper in the banking business to be as sure thing as a money-making proposition can be.

Ramping up drilling in the Powder River Basin, 5000 leases have just been fast tracked, fire hosed and blessed by Texas tea black bullion barons, billions of dollars in federal subsidies, regulatory agencies sitting on their hands, a whole lot of down on their luck drillers are lining up for a piece of the action.

This isn’t champagne, caviar or wing nuts over Yellowstone. This is not a free market economy. This is crony capitalism, regulatory capture, where the favors are doled out to the most favored.

Private equity, Wall Street, the “too big to fail banks” are all becoming reluctant players. Investment dollars are getting harder to come by because the price of renewable energy is down, and that cleaner cheaper thing is, if you didn’t know it, a better thing.

There are fewer Democrats in Wyoming than there are grizzly bears. Republicans in Cheyenne like playing hard ball, deregulate industry, say not one word about federal fossil fuel subsidies, cut the state budget, then cut taxes more, then cut them again, trigger fiscal crisis, then snarl and bark about how government doesn’t work.

What we can do is end the federal fossil fuel subsidies that keep going to Cheyenne. Switch federal tax incentives to the low-cost leader in energy, that would be solar and wind, launch a reality based economic transition program. Help Wyoming’s workers first, the fossil fuel companies second. Then, start a dialogue with the state’s politicians. Wyoming is windy. A redesigned electric power grid is needed, those are all good paying jobs.

Coal is not coming back. Nuclear power is way too expensive. By 2025 the best Ford pickup money can buy will be electric. Miners in Wyoming will be repurposed. National security will require domestic sources of lithium, copper, and manganese be developed.

I’m not kidding, it’s going to be good

We will need leadership in Wyoming to sit down at the negotiating table. Republicans need to look to the energy future. Modernizing our energy system, setting our nations table, setting a course for a cleaner, more efficient, cheaper, world class competitive electric energy supply will pay our people back many times over. World class infrastructure means providing America with the chance to remain a world class economic powerhouse. I’m good with some progressive policies mixed in with conservative ideas too. What we need is a bipartisan agreement to follow the facts wherever they may lead us. Renewables are cheaper and not helping the citizens make it through the energy transition is unaffordable. We can’t squander our most precious natural renewable resource, our people, for the sake of ideology, because we slam the brakes on last century’s oil economy. We all make a decision together, that we all agree that we can’t leave our citizens behind. If this was poker, done right the energy transition is a winning hand. Better times and brighter less expensive lighting is just ahead.