WSW: Market Forces And Regulations Push Energy Trends

Jan 23, 2017

File photo of a partially constructed wind tunnel at Fort Custer Training Center.
Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

A Western Michigan University professor says market forces, not government policy will determine the future of the energy industry. Joyashish Thakurta says the trend is away from coal toward natural gas. 

Thakurta says that’s in part because coal is a solid and has added transportation costs. He says the burning and disposal of coal waste is expensive. Thakurta says energy produced from natural gas can be transmitted easier, such as through pipelines, and doesn’t produce the same waste.

Thakruta says most energy industries around the world are making the transition to clean power plants. He says other sources of alternative energy are growing and creating jobs. Thakurta says it will be a long-term process to transition to renewable sources of energy from fossil fuels. He says the new Paris climate agreement will also encourage the move away from coal. .

Expansion of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) and horizontal drilling have made it easier to extract natural gas. Thakurta says that is driving their costs down. He says some environmental regulations, such as limits on what lands can be mined have made it more expensive to produce coal. 

During the campaign President Trump promised to relax regulations on coal and return jobs. But Thakurta says he doesn’t see a clear way to bring coal jobs back. He says the Coal industry has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs over the last 35 years. Thakurta says automation is also a factor because new mechanical means of coal mining don’t require miners and are considered safer.

Thakurta says many energy companies have already made the transition to natural gas, and are not likely to go back to coal-fired plants. He says the coal industry is likely to continue shrinking in the long run.