Part 6: A Thriving Economy and clean air too

In the preceding posts, energy and it’s relationship to economic prosperity are discussed. The clear example of the use of energy and electricity to power economies of entire countries are discussed using the example of the U.S.A.’s economic prosperity from the advent of coal powered central station power plants 1882-2012. During this 130 year period, coal power was America’s #1 fuel for power generation. America’s power since 2012 has been generated with growing use of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing and at the same time, application of advanced pollution controls have been applied to our coal plants. These advancements have drastically reduced pollutants from America’s coal power generation. Both coal plant backend environmental emission controls and use of more emissions friendly natural gas have contributed to the drastic reductions in pollution.

America is also energy independent, thanks to President Trump’s policies to reduce regulations plus America’s treasure of enormous reserves of coal, oil and gas. Fracking and reduced Regulations together have unleashed our reserves of oil and gas. A geologist who specializes in oil exploration once told me, “Wherever there is coal, there is oil and natural gas.” This is true. Take a look at the history of coal, oil and gas production in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota and Texas as four examples. These four states have lots of coal and lots of oil and gas too!

China on the other hand, has built more coal fueled electric power generation plants in the last twenty years than America did in the preceding 100 years. One difference is, American Industry has been responsible and reduced emissions while China has been focused on becoming the largest manufacturer in the world with less emphasis on pollution. Here is a graph of growing economic prosperity, increased population, increased travel and yet ever improving air quality. This is from the EPA website which shows the great progress in cleaning our air over the last 50 years since the EPA was began in 1970.

EPA Comparison of U.S.A. Growth of Economic, Miles Traveled, Population,Energy Production, CO2 and at the same time, Downward Trend of the six major Pollutants. From the EPA web page

Before the Pandemic in December 2019, America’s economy was thriving and manufacturing within our borders was increasing. Yes, President Trump’s policies of reducing regulations was working not only for increasing economic prosperity and jobs, but also resulting in continued clean air trends.

The EPA Chart of clean air trends clearly shows American Industry’s good and responsible progress in pollution reduction. That is not what you will see in the mainstream media. The illustration below attempts to compare the perception of “Dirty American Coal Plants” with reality.

I used the figure above in a recent presentation to our Hilton Head Rotary Club to discuss the “Importance of Reasonable Cost, Reliable Energy and Electricity to South Carolina”. In SC about one third of our electricity is used for the production of primary metals. Namely, steel and aluminum. The NUCOR Steel and Century Aluminum plants are amongst the state’s largest employers. The steel and aluminum is important for American manufacturing. Reasonable cost, clean energy is required for America’s steel and aluminum manufacturers to compete with China. In previous posts I have shown China’s rise in manufacturing since 2001 where they now produce over 50% of the entire world production of steel and aluminum. It is important that America keeps production of primary metals within our borders not only to provide jobs and a thriving economy but also for National Security. Yes, in America, we have proven that when we work together, we can have it all! Economic prosperity, Made in U.S.A. products and clean air and clean water too!

Another illustration I used in the recent Rotary presentation was a photo of aluminum ingots being exported from China and a graph of chinese aluminum production 2005-2016. This is an example of American manufacturers competing in the production of energy intensive primary metals.

During the years 1978-2012 I traveled the world working as a consultant to ALCOA. I saw as the expression goes, “Like a fly on the wall” the decline in ALCOA’s aluminum production as China dumped millions of tons of metal into world markets. Yes, they are over 50% of the world’s production capacity. Being competitive matters to every one of our 50 states, but here in SC (and every other U.S. State) it is particularly important to continue generating reasonable cost, reliable electric power. How does SC do that? It may surprise a lot of folks, but SC nuclear power generation is number 3 in America and provides over 55% of South Carolina’s electricity. In 2019 56.9% of SC’s electricity was generated by nuclear power. Of course, that helps both the clean air and reasonable cost generation factors.

South Carolina Electric Production by Fuel, 2019. From Energy Information Administration

Note that 93.5% of South Carolina’s electricity was produced by traditional, conventional power sources: Nuclear, Natural Gas and Coal. Yes, 93.5%. The reasonable cost power drives South Carolina’s manufacturing economy and provides thousands of jobs. A previous post discusses the “Green New Deal” and the potential harm to the American economy. Imagine the difficulty of attempting to compete with China in manufacturing if we changed to mostly solar and wind power produced at say $0.35/kWh? First of all, it cannot be done in the short term. Not until there are extreme advances in solar panel production and electric storage will reasonable cost electric generation from renewables be possible. Note in an earlier post this year on this Blog, I showed the example of Hawaii Electric which is attempting to become mostly renewable and have planned to shut down their most reliable and least cost source of electricity from their lone coal plant. So, what do they use in the interim? Oil, the most expensive fuel for power generation. No worries for manufacturing in Hawaii, their economy is driven by toursim, government facilities and agriculture. They can use the highest cost electricity in America with not too much pain. This would not bode well in a state with major manufacturing as SC has.

In conclusion, let me state, yes we can compete with the world and China in manufacturing as long as energy and electricity proces remain reasonable in cost. We have proven that not only can we generate relable 24/7 power generation but also do so with clean air and clean water.

Dick Storm, October 23, 2020

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