A big part of alleged president Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accords was a desire to continue sucking up to the disaffected coal miners in America’s Rust Belt. But the chief executive of American Electric Power, which produces more electricity from burning coal than any other utility company in the US, says Trump’s decision will have no affect on his company’s transition away from coal and toward clean energy alternatives, including solar and wind.
In an interview with NPR, Nicholas Akins, CEO of AEP said, “Our investors certainly expect us to really focus on sustainability and de-risk our business. So we continue to focus on that. Secondly, from a customer standpoint, there’s an expectation that we move to that cleaner energy economy.”
Cost is a major factor, said Akins. Building and operating coal-fired pollution facilities is getting more expensive. A new coal plant today costs about $4 billion. “That’s a lot of capital, because you’re not only building the generation facility itself, but you’re building all of the environmental equipment attached to it, which is substantial,” he said. “It actually is a chemical factory that happens to produce electricity.”
Meanwhile, the cost of renewables continues to fall. AEP plans to increase the amount of solar and wind power in its energy portfolio in coming years, backed up by the flexibility that natural gas provides. “We still believe that coal should remain a part of the portfolio, but certainly, a smaller part of the portfolio, so that we can manage risk and have multiple sets of solutions available to us,” Akins explained.
And what of all those unemployed coal miners waiting for The Donald to swoop in and save them? Akins points out that studies conducted by his company found that miners have mechanical abilities that far exceed the national average, thanks to a long history of operating machinery in mining operations.
“That really lends itself well to other forms of manufacturing like defense, aerospace engineering, that kind of thing,” Akins said. “And so we’re trying to locate facilities at these regions to not necessarily put coal miners back to work in the coal mines, but make manufacturing incentives to put people back to work.”
Trump and his acolytes should listen to what Akins has to say. Their position is like trying to save the jobs of wheelwrights and blacksmiths 100 years ago. The proper role of government is helping people with valuable skills find gainful employment in new fields of endeavor, not pander to them about turning back the clock to a bygone era.
On the one hand, we have the advice of an experienced business leader who is guiding a company through the swirling waters of technological change. On the other, we have a preening pedant who has a history of high-profile bankruptcies. Which person represents the best way forward for America?
Source: Greentech Media
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