Coal: Renewable energy is not ready for primetime

A verbal misstep by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice last week was the perfect illustration of why President Donald Trump is right to be calling retreat in the war on coal launched by his predecessor.

It was announced that the Trump administration is implementing its Affordable Clean Energy Rule. It reverses some, but not all, of the many executive-branch assaults on coal and coal-fired power plants.

Trump’s action is not a surrender to climate change. In contrast to the Obama White House, Trump wants more money for research in how to burn coal and natural gas with lower emissions.

But what many Americans may miss in last week’s announcement is that it is not just for coal miners. It will benefit tens of millions of U.S. families by helping to ensure we have reasonably priced, reliable electricity in the future. The notion of affordable “alternative energy” is still, quite simply, a lie.

It was there Justice made his mistake. Referring indirectly to those who have pushed the nation toward expensive, unreliable power generation, the governor said this: “Places like California may be able to survive entirely on solar and wind, and that’s great. But here in West Virginia, we live and die by the coal we mine and the oil and natural gas we produce.”

Coal-fired power plants, being augmented gradually by new gas-fired generating units, ensure that when we in West Virginia and Ohio flip a switch, the lights come on. They also hold our utility bills down. In March, the average price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in West Virginia was 10.97 cents. In Ohio, it was 12.15 cents.

But Californians paid an average of 19.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in March. And they do NOT rely on renewables for power when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

California’s mix of power generation is reliant heavily on natural gas, at a whopping 41 percent. Solar comes in at 16 percent, with wind at just 6 percent — less than the 8 percent for nuclear power. Fortunately, the Golden State also has the resources to get 20 percent of its power from hydroelectric generation. The remainder comes from biomass and other sources.

So, contrary to what Justice apparently believes, Californians do not rely on wind and solar. Far from it. To ensure their lights go on when the switch is flipped, they need fossil fuels.

That is why Trump is right to halt the campaign against coal, with one in the works against gas.