Some 50 million people were affected in the Northeast and beyond as the largest power blackout in U.S. history, crippled major metropolitan areas, shutting down trainstations, airports, traffic and cooling systems, as well as water pumps, computers, and cell phones. The blackout disrupted planes, trains, and automobiles leaving millions of travelers stuck in traffic jams, airport terminals, and rail stations. After four days, the cause of the massive outage remained a mystery.
Coal may get more attention once again. While the blackout appears unlikely to have any meaningful short-term impact on coal demand, it is certainly an opportunity to raise the importance of power system reliability. Coalís outstanding features in terms of reliability of supply and low cost have long been under appreciated by the nation, despite the fact that coal supplies fuel some 51% of the U.S. power grid. It is also worth noting that there has been a strong performance in the power regions of the Appalachian states, Ohio Valley, and southeast U.S., all most heavily dependent on coal.
The massive loss of power clearly demonstrates the nationís dependence on reliable electricity generation. It also shows that America needs new sources of domestic base load generation and improved transmission systems. Power reserves are being used up too quickly: operating at peak or near peak capacity throughout the electricity generation system is occurring too often.
Between now and 2025, U.S. energy needs will be 51% greater and the most affordable and reliable way to meet this increased demand is with coal-based generation which can deliver power more cleanly than ever before. However, the nationís energy and environmental policies, which are closely linked together, need to be rationalized if the energy requirements of the country are to be met.
The Energy Bill is still pending after a two-year discussion and other related regulatory changes, either proposed or conceived, can make a tremendous difference if they are acted upon in a prompt and responsible way. The coal industry stands ready to play an increasingly important part in contributing to Americaís power requirements of the future fueling reliable, secure, low cost and environmentally sound energy. This will occur when the nationís policymakers do their job. cl
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