Take a deep breath. Despite proposed new EPA regulations, and despite the fears of business and political leaders and the hopes of environmentalists, coal-fired power plants almost certainly will not disappear in Indiana or elsewhere any time soon.
Here’s why: In a nation as energy dependent as the United States, 68 percent of electricity still is generated by burning fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
And the fossil fuel most often used to keep the lights on in factories, homes and businesses is coal. It’s the source of 37 percent of the nation’s electricity; wind and solar, in contrast, account for less than 4 percent combined.
The advent of fracking, used to unlock natural gas deposits, has put a dent in coal’s dominance in recent years and now is the source of 30 percent of electricity production. But, energy analysts argue, the frequent use of gas to heat homes and other buildings in the winter limits its feasibility as the dominant source for electricity.
Aggressive steps toward better energy efficiency can help, and should be encouraged, but as the economy and population grow, the need to produce more electricity will remain. Nuclear energy, for a variety of economic and environmental reasons, is a non-starter. And while wind and solar generation are growing, they’re likely to remain relatively minor pieces of the overall energy picture for many years to come.
All of which means that while King Coal’s reign is being challenged, it still hasn’t been dethroned.
So, can Indiana keep on digging and burning without concern, despite the EPA’s most recent move against the use of coal? Not at all.
For starters, there’s good reason to believe that Indiana’s current energy mix is tilted too far in favor of coal.