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Head of leading producer says coal to be world’s top fuel soon

In three years, coal will surpass oil as the world’s single largest source of energy and will help to lift millions of the “global poor” out of poverty, says Gregory Boyce, chief executive officer of the nation’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy Corp.

In an interview published online Tuesday afternoon by The Wall Street Journal, Boyce pointed out that coal still generates 44 percent of the electricity used in the United States and “is still a massive baseload supply of low-cost, reliable, nonvariable energy for our electricity grid.”

“Globally, it has been the fastest growing fuel over the past decade,” Boyce told the Journal. “In the next three years, the International Energy Agency projects that coal will be the single largest source of energy in the world.”

Boyce also told the newspaper that natural gas is just as dirty as coal if you look at its “life-cycle emissions” and not just the emissions at the point of generation.

“If you look at the life-cycle emissions of the production, transportation and use of gas, it is much closer to the performance of coal” as a dirty fuel, Boyce said. “ You have to look at methane leakage, particularly from unconventional gas drilling, as well as the energy it takes to transport gas through pipelines.”

Boyce told the Journal that 3.5 billion of the world’s people live in “energy poverty” today, with 1.5 billion of them having “zero electricity access today.”

“That is the largest and most significant human and environmental issue that we face,” said Boyce. “And until we solve that problem, we aren’t going to make the progress that we want to in terms of a lower-carbon future.”

“When you start to look at those poverty demographics, that energy poverty, that energy inequality, then you understand why coal has been such a fast-growing fuel,” Boyce added. “How did China get 700 million people out of poverty and into the developed world? They did it with coal.”

Asked by the Journal if poor air quality from the burning of coal doesn’t harm more people than it helps, Boyce said “Four million people a year die due to energy poverty. What does that mean? No electricity. Malnutrition. No healthcare because there’s no electricity. Indoor air pollution. So let’s step back from a global view that says that the only thing we need to worry about is CO2.”

Concluded Boyce: “The question for all of us is how do we continue to incentivize the use of coal and the best performance that we possibly can.”

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