Cold weather gives coal a boost

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HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - While much of the country grapples with a deep freeze, the cold snap has given coal a boost.

Photo of coal: Pixabay

With temperatures dropping, utilities are increasingly turning to coal and nuclear to help meet higher demand.

"[Coal] is very stable," said Dr. John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU. "It's been very cost-effective from an electrical power generation perspective for a long time. So, it's made up a very large percentage of our electrical power generation historically."

According to data from PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization, as of Thursday, coal was providing 40% of the power to thirteen states (including West Virginia), while nuclear was providing 28% and natural gas was providing 22%.

Coal typically accounts for about one-third of the electrical power generation in the country.

Energy analysts say that as the price of natural gas surges, utilities have sought out cheaper alternative sources, like coal.

Coal and nuclear facilities also maintain large reserves of onsite fuel supplies. These resources are available to operate around the clock in all types of weather.

Proponents of coal say the extreme weather underscores the need for a new Department of Energy proposal, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could rule on in a matter of days.

The proposal would provide market-based incentives, compensating coal and nuclear in the marketplace for their roles in powering electric grids during harsher weather.

Critics call it a bailout, but supporters like Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va) says it's a necessary "insurance policy" to make sure electric grids are not disrupted.

Rep. McKinley points to the 2014 Polar Vortex, which affected pipelines delivering natural gas, as a justification for the DOE proposal.

The Polar Vortex also caused outages at coal-fired facilities.

This week, Rep. McKinley released a statement touting coal's role during the extreme cold:

"Secretary Rick Perry was correct when he proposed valuing secure and reliable fuel such as coal and nuclear. Imagine the dangerous situation we’d be facing during this recent cold snap if we did not have reliable coal and nuclear power generation, which combined have provided nearly 70% of our power generation during the recent weather conditions. The dependability of our electric grid would be challenged."