The Western coal economy is likely to continue on for a few decades in a much smaller scale, concluded panelists at a “future of coal” conference in Billings on Friday.
With fewer power plants burning the fossil fuel and competition from cheap natural gas, wind and solar energy, coal’s contribution to the nation’s electricity production has dropped to 30 percent, down from 52 percent 20 years ago. The fossil fuel isn’t going to bounce back in the United States.
However, the world isn’t done burning coal, said Todd O’Hair, senior manager of government affairs for Cloud Peak Energy. Global demand for coal is increasing. Cloud Peak’s Spring Creek Mine in southeast Montana exports coal to Japan and South Korea.
“Global coal consumption continues to march on,” O’Hair told conference attendees at the Northern Hotel. “According to the International Energy Administration, from a report they passed in November of last year, world coal production is expected to increase 3 percent from 2015 to 2040.”
There’s 9 billion tons of coal burned every year now, O’Hair said. If the world is going to burn coal, the United States should invest in technology to capture coal pollutants, namely carbon dioxide, a cause of climate change.