Come April, a brand-new 17-megawatt generator will start operating in the town of Fairbanks.
Coal-fired power plants are on their way out across much of the United States. Not in Alaska, though. Come April, a brand-new 17-megawatt generator, which has cost $245 million to construct, will start operating in the town of Fairbanks. It will be supplied with coal by the state’s one and only coal mine, which lies within a few hour’s drive.
The new plant is bucking the trend in the U.S.’s energy industry, which has seen the proportion of coal in electricity generation drop to a level of 25%, down from 45% just a decade ago. Last year alone 18 coal-fired plants were shut down in the U.S. This year as many as 14 more plants are expected to be shut down.
Policymakers in Alaska have embraced coal largely because Fairbanks has no access to gas pipelines and locals need lots of electricity to stay warm during cold and dark winter months. “Geography really drove what options are available to us,” explains Kari Burrell, a vice chancellor at the University of Fairbanks. “We are not saying this is ideal by any means.”
Ideal or not, the Trump administration, which rejects the idea that climate change is driven by manmade causes, is looking favorably at coal. President Donald J. Trump wants to see a coal-fired power plant in Kentucky allowed to keep operating despite efforts to shut it down.
“Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and [local policymakers] should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!,” Trump has tweeted.
Many analysts beg to differ, however. “The future of power in the U.S. does not include coal,” stresses Tessie Petion, an analyst for HSBC Holdings Plc.