Solar energy illuminates coal’s demise
The ironic headline was eye-catching: “Kentucky coal museum switching to solar power.” But while recent news about a small museum in the tiny town of Benham, Ky., was worthy of a chuckle, it also reflected poorly on President Trump’s outdated view of the American economy.
Trump has promised to move America backward by returning jobs to the dying industries of producing and burning coal. Last month, he signed an executive order to roll back many Obama-era environmental protections while blaming those policies for the decline of the coal industry during a signing ceremony at – wait for it – the Environmental Protection Agency.
For those of us in the Northwest, this might not seem particularly relevant. Blessed with abundant hydropower – which is cheap, clean and renewable – the issue of coal comes to us from seemingly a foreign land. Washington has one commercial coal-fired energy plant, in Centralia, and it is scheduled to close within the next decade.
But the issue of coal and the environmental degradation it creates should be a universal concern. So, too, should efforts to prop up an archaic industry.
According to a January report from the Department of Energy, the solar power industry accounts for about 374,000 jobs in the United States – 43 percent of the electric power generation sector. That should help scuttle the fallacy that renewable energy cannot be an effective economic engine. Coal industry jobs in the United States have dwindled to 77,000, which according to HuffingtonPost.com makes it a smaller employer than roast beef, fast-food chain Arby’s.
And now, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in the heart of traditional coal country, is switching from coal-generated electricity to solar power. The move, according to communications director Brandon Robinson, “will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone.” As columnist Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times wrote: “Go figure. The coal mining museum is going solar, for solid economic reasons, and President Trump is reviving coal, with no economic logic at all.”
The bottom line is that clinging to the ancient religion of coal does nothing to make America great again. It simply adheres to an energy source that is being passed over thanks to both economic and environmental factors. Attempting to bolster the coal industry is a losing proposition born of 1950s-style thinking that is devoid of a clear vision for the future.