Changing times: Of coal, renewable energy and Arkansas | Arkansas Blog

Changing times: Of coal, renewable energy and Arkansas


  • NRDC
A convergence of news in recent days on coal, global climate and renewable energy had me thinking about Arkansas

Big news today is the rest of the world's disapproval of Donald Trump for wavering, perhaps eventually to reject, the Paris climate accord.

This follows by not many hours the interesting and somewhat contradictory statement by top Trump aide Gary Cohn:

"Coal doesn't even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock," Gary Cohn said, aboard Air Force One on Thursday, referring to raw materials that get converted into a fuel.

Cohn, who serves as director of the White House National Economic Council, instead praised natural gas as "such a cleaner fuel" — and one that America has become an "abundant producer of."

Trump enjoyed big votes in critical coal country territory by promising to bring coal back. Every indication is that's not going to happen.

A big reason is the turn away from coal as generating fuel for power companies. That isn't likely to change, and not only because of cheaper, cleaner gas. A concern for the planet also figures.

Almost half of the Fortune 500 companies have adopted at least one climate or clean-energy goal, with 23 of them pledging eventually to run their businesses on 100 percent renewable energy, including Walmart, Bank of America and Google, according to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund and other environmentally minded organizations and investors.

Though corporations are buying renewable energy across the country, energy executives and analysts say it is notable that the trend is taking hold in states where coal production is part of the economic heart and soul.
American Electric Power, parent of SWEPCO, once the hungriest coal burner in the country, has gotten on board. (Arkansas became home to one of the country's last big coal burning plants, a SWEPCO facility that even Texas rejected.)

Appalachian Power’s switch from coal was in part pushed as a result of a summit meeting that its parent company, American Electric Power, held at its headquarters last fall with corporate giants including Walmart, Facebook, Hilton, Procter & Gamble and Marathon Petroleum.

Those companies stressed that if they were going to expand their businesses in A.E.P. regions, they would need access to low-carbon energy. American Electric Power organized a second meeting in Washington in May that included Amazon, Caesars Entertainment, DuPont, Marriott International and Starbucks.
Cleaner air is good for business? Don't try selling that soap in Arkansas.

Here, the previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, carried freight for the added coal plant. The current attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, battles rules that will help hasten a change to cleaner boiler fuel. She and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce want to keep the coal trains running, no matter the cost to the environment. Cheaper for industry, they claim.

Our congressmen fight a project to deliver wind-generated power. Our politicians ignore the startling growth of jobs in renewable energy (former politician Bill Halter, now heavily invested in solar power, is an exception.)

So it wasn't too surprising to see the map from an environmental group, NRDC, showing Arkansas and some other Deep South red states trailing the rest of the country in development of renewable power sources.

Arkansas was also last in being swept away by the Republican tide. Correlation?

Note that Entergy just announced a big solar project in Stuttgart and is switching to gas generation in some cases.

So maybe things are changing. Normally here, we like to do things the way we've always done them. Why, they say you could build a wall around Arkansas and .....

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