Facing Soaring Electricity Prices, Potential Blackouts and a Global Energy Crisis, Voters Strongly Support Action to Preserve the Coal Fleet and Ramp up Domestic Coal Production

June 16, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Mining Association (NMA) today released polling that shows, in the face of rising warnings over rolling blackouts, nearly 8 in 10 voters – including a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents – want the U.S. government to take action to prevent premature closings of functioning power plants until replacement generating capacity is built and online. The same polling found that nearly 9 in 10 voters are also concerned about rising electricity rates.

Voters were also asked if the U.S. should ramp up coal production to help wean Europe off of Russian coal for steelmaking and electricity generation. Nearly 6 in 10 voters agreed the U.S. should, with just 2 in 10 voters disagreeing and the remainder having no opinion. The polling was conducted by Morning Consult, June 14-15, 2022, of 2,210 registered voters and carries a +/-2 percent margin of error.

“Americans are deeply concerned that they are paying far more for a supply of electricity that is less reliable than ever before. With grid reliability deteriorating, energy inflation soaring and the threat of blackouts now a reality for tens-of-millions of Americans, it’s time for an energy policy reset,” said Rich Nolan, NMA President and CEO. “To preserve grid reliability and affordability we need to make better use of the resources and energy infrastructure we have here at home. Getting us to our energy future shouldn’t mean disassembling affordability and reliability along the way. This global energy crisis has underscored the need for U.S. energy leadership and, as this polling clearly shows, Americans recognize the critically important role American coal can play in reinforcing our energy security and that of our allies and they want their elected officials to take action.”

Grid Reliability
The North American Electricity Reliability Corporation (NERC) ended 2021 with a strong warning: capacity retirements and the rapid remaking of the grid will pose tremendous challenges to grid reliability over the next decade. Speaking to the findings of NERC’s 2021 Long-Term Reliability Assessment, John Moura, NERC Director of Reliability Assessments and System Analysis, said that the energy disruptions seen in California and Texas over the past year “should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country.” NERC provided recommendations to address reliability challenges including developing policies that “maintain a sustainable and diverse generation mix.”

NERC’s 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment found that the West Coast, Texas and the Midwest are all at risk of blackouts, with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator grid at “high risk.” Reacting to the assessment, John Moura said, “It’s a pretty sobering report, and it’s clear the risks are spreading.” He added, “And while we’ve initiated action on a number of fronts and sounded the alarm bells for many years, there’s clear, objective, conclusive data indicating that the pace of our great transformation is a bit out of sync with the underlying realities and the physics of the system.”

Electricity Affordability
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently reported that electricity prices for June through September in the California, New England and Texas markets are up 77% to 223% from last year’s prices. That warning of higher prices was reinforced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook. EIA forecast that electricity prices in the Northeast regions (ISO New England, New York ISO, and PJM markets) will exceed $100 per megawatt hour between June and August 2022, up from an average of about $50/MWh last summer. EIA also forecast summer electricity prices will average $98/MWh in California’s CAISO market and $90/MWh in the ERCOT market in Texas. EIA pointed to the high price of natural gas as a leading driver for higher prices, as well as constraints on fuel switching to coal from “continued coal capacity retirements, constraints in fuel delivery to coal plants, and lower-than-average stocks at coal plants.”

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 40% of Europe’s gas supply came from Russia and half its coal supply. American coal is already playing a critical role in replacing Russian supply. According to Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA), a leading energy consultancy, U.S. thermal coal exports over the first four months of the year are up 77% to Europe as significant tonnage shifts from Asia. U.S. metallurgical coal exports to Europe, used for steelmaking, are also up. According to Argus, thermal coal exports to Europe in April were up 300%.

Illinois Basin thermal coal, travelling through the ports of Hampton Roads, Mobile and, primarily, New Orleans, is making up the majority of the new supply to Europe. Even more supply would be heading across the Atlantic but workforce and equipment challenges, significant rail problems, and congestion at ports are all limiting production and export potential.