Sure, natural gas is cheaper, but coal is going to be king in the U.S. for many more years.
That was the admittedly “optimistic” view of coal’s future offered this week by Dan Weekley, vice president of corporate affairs for Dominion
Resources, which operates several energy-generating facilities across the country.
Weekley was one of a dozen speakers Monday morning at the Virginia Coal & Energy Alliance’s annual coal conference, held in Kingsport. Keynote speeches were given by Virginia U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem; Tennessee U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st; Randy Eminger of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity; Mark Bower of Norfolk Southern Corp.; Dr. Susan Meacham of the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine; Steve Carpenter of Advanced Resources International; and Greg Kohn of Count on Coal.
In addition, embassies from India, Japan, Korea and China spoke about their countries’ energy standings and relationship to coal.
Weekley said 37 percent of Dominion’s resources are coal-based, which nearly reflects the percentage of American electricity generated by coal today.
He said other energy sources are important, but coal is the most economical for the U.S. market.
“I like alternative energy, but I don’t like that it doesn’t always produce energy 24 hours a day, and I don’t like the cost,” Weekley said.
And natural gas is big in some parts of the country, but in the Southeast, a large diameter pipeline needed to get the gas here from the bigger gas-producing areas of the U.S doesn’t exist, he said.
“I’d argue that we’re probably 12-15 years away from a large-scale transportation network,” he said. “We should be diversifying our fleet as much as possible. I like it all. I like coal, nuclear, alternative energy … but basically to turn our back on the coal industry, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
He compared it to a stock portfolio.
“You don’t want too much of any one fuel,” he said.
But international sales of U.S. coal might level out for the next two years, said Mark Bower, general vice president of exports for Norfolk Southern.
He said that Norfolk Southern believes in the future of coal exports, but there is a lot of oversupply of metallurgical coal in the market now.
He said Australian met coal sets the standard in quality and reaches the Asian markets more than U.S. coal because of its proximity to those markets. The majority of coal exported from the Hampton Roads area, where Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp. haul, goes to Europe.
Three-year deals made a few years ago when the market cost of coal was higher will soon end, he added, and 2014 and 2015 likely won’t see tremendous growth in the export of coal.
“I think it’s 2016 before we begin to see improvements in exports of coal,” he said.
Weekley said he thinks the industry and its supporters could do a better job of representing the benefits of coal to the public.
“Society will dictate what fuel we’ll use,” he said. “…What we should be telling people is that there are thousands of jobs. The technology will come along to keep coal in the mix. What we’ve got to do is get the facts to the public.”