Appalachian Transition Initiative Leads Coalfields into New Year--and New Era
An excellent interview which emphasizes that coal mining only keeps Appalachia poor. Coal mining regions need a new energy future most of all.
Roadmaps to New Power: Appalachian Transition Initiative Leads Coalfields into New Year--and New Era
January 3, 2011 10:33 AM
Jeff Biggers interview with Kristin Tracz, a Research & Policy Associate at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED).
Quote:JB:How extensive is mountaintop removal mining in eastern KY, in terms of jobs and economic revenue? And how many jobs have been lost, due to mechanization, over the past 25 years?
KT: Mountaintop removal mining is a common form of surface mining in eastern Kentucky. According to EIA 2009 data, 239 mines in eastern Kentucky were surface mines out of 449 total mines in the state, accounting for about 35% of total coal mined in Kentucky. That includes methods other than mountaintop removal mining like contour mining--it is hard to get great data about MTR sites explicitly. The cumulative effects of this kind of mining are only beginning to be understood, in terms of impacts on Appalachian people and places in the form of drinking water, air quality, forest productivity, land use and ultimately what kinds of economic choices we have in the future. Across all kinds of mining techniques, the number of jobs directly employed by the coal industry in Kentucky is down significantly from a high of over 50,000 in 1979 to only roughly 17,000 in 2006. Mining makes up less than 1% of non-farm employment in Kentucky, though in a few coal counties it runs as high as 20%.
Mechanization has certainly played a big role in the decrease of jobs. Until the mid-1990s, coal production was high in the state even while jobs declined dramatically. In the last fifteen years or so, production has also started to decline as thinner seams of coal are mined out--leading to further job loss.
Surface mining accounts for nearly half of Central Appalachian coal, but only about 38% of mining jobs in the region. The revenue question is harder to answer in terms of plain numbers. MACED released a report on the economics of coal in Kentucky last summer--it has a lot of this information for folks looking for background and context, and can be found at http://www.maced.org/coal.
JB: What is New Power---solar, wind, geothermal?
KT: In Kentucky's case, there's a real need to focus on efficiency first. Historically low-cost electricity has allowed folks to largely ignore investments in efficiency in their homes, schools, offices and public buildings. But rates are rising quickly--43% on average over the last 5 years in Kentucky--and the cheapest energy is of course the energy you don't produce.
After you've gone after all the efficiency savings you can, then looking at renewable technologies like wind, hydro, solar photovoltaics and solar hot water make a lot of sense. Kentucky has net-metering, which allows customers with a renewable energy system on their property to provide power back to the grid and offset personal consumption. In combination with state and federal tax credits, it can make good economic sense to install a system on a house or commercial property. It would make even more sense if we had the kind of regulatory framework that valued renewable energy and energy efficiency installations in Kentucky, like the renewable and efficiency portfolio standards passed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and just recently, Arkansas.
Research is being done across the state into what the feasibility of different technologies under different circumstances could be. The common theme seems to be so far that the further technology advances - in terms of hub heights for wind turbines, and efficiency of solar collectors - the better Kentucky looks for deploying renewable technologies. We probably won't end up being the picture of massive wind farms like the Midwest or solar farms like the Mojave Desert, but there is a lot of potential for distributed generation in Kentucky. The next challenge will be to ensure we have the transmission capacity to handle it, but a policy commitment to distributed renewable generation would help speed up the research process for transmission improvements.
More at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-bigge...03573.html