Signs of the Times

I don’t know what to say about the fact that Kentucky’s Coal Museum is powered by solar panels but …. here it is, folks:

Tre’ Sexton said he was surprised when his company, Bluegrass Solar, was approached about the project. If there was one building in eastern Kentucky that wouldn’t have a solar-power system, you’d think it would be the coal museum, he said.

“Really the first time that I sat down and was talking about it with everybody, I was like…are you for real? They’re really going to go for this?” Sexton said. “I mean, that would be like showing up at a bank and they ask you if you’d mind taking some of this money out of the vault.”

But putting solar panels on top of the coal museum makes sense economically, Sexton said. Public attractions like this one can’t be profitable if they’re dealing with expensive electric bills every month. And people in eastern Kentucky are becoming more interested in alternative energy options.

There’s been a lot of discussion about coal and coal jobs lately, mostly because everyone always panders to coal states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania during election season. Both sides do it, and both sides are wrong. I mean, Republicans are the worst — Trump is famously making promises he can’t deliver, while Republicans are hanging sick retired miners out to dry. Democrats can be just as bad, though. Remember Alison Grimes, running for Kentucky Senate, criticizing President Obama on the loss of coal jobs? Her “concern” was such obvious bullshit, everyone knew it, and of course she got called on it.

Democrats and Republicans need to just stop this nonsense. These are not stupid people. They know their industry is dying. Stop promising to pull a Lazarus on a dying industry. It’s like it’s 1910 and politicians are promising to bring back wagons and farriers. I wonder how a politician of either party would fare if they came into coal country and said, “look, market forces have changed, coal has been replaced, let’s transition your economies to other industries with aggressive economic development and education programs.”

Would that get respect or a barrage of lying SuperPac ads? Probably the latter. That was basically Hillary Clinton’s message, and we all know how well that went over. Thing is, people just want to dream the impossible dream. Lie to me, please. Tell me that you can save my local coal mine, even if that one in Pennsylvania is shutting down. No, these people aren’t stupid, they’re desperate. Desperation is a hard emotion to address during a campaign.

But here we are. That the fucking Kentucky Coal Museum is being powered by solar panels because it’s more economical just says it all, doesn’t it? Coal has been dying for decades, and it’s not because of Obama or the EPA, it’s because of “market forces” and the damn numbers, folks. They don’t add up:

Coal mining jobs, meanwhile, have also fallen 70% since 1985, a loss of 120,000 jobs.

The coal industry has lost much of its customer base not because of regulations but because natural gas production has soared, pushing down the price of that cleaner source of electrical power.

In addition, falling costs for green energy, such as solar and wind power, have cut the demand for coal. So has a move by overseas markets, like China, to shift away from coal in an attempt to clean up badly polluted air.

Lots of people wonder why every election we pander to an industry that accounts for around the same number of employees as Whole Foods Markets:

It’s a good question. I have to say, this is an issue where both sides get it way wrong. I love the anti-fracking people on the left, you know, the ones who just couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s “pro-fracking” and that’s a dealbreaker. Well then, are you in favor of climate change? Are you pro-mountaintop removal mining? Because those are the choices right now. Coal is dying — has been dying, for decades — because natural gas is ascending, and we get natural gas from fracking. So pick your poison.

And yes, solar and wind are good options but we do not have the infrastructure to transition our entire economy to these sources overnight. Our grid can’t accommodate it right now. We need that “Apollo program for energy” that we’ve been promised, but it’s not happening yet. So it has to happen in bits and pieces. Like the Kentucky Coal Museum putting solar panels on its roof, or this coal operation in eastern Kentucky planning a solar farm on a reclaimed strip mine.

We pander to an industry that supplies fewer than 100,000 jobs because there’s a lot of history attached to it and it’s a cultural touchstone. Much of “coal country” is in a culturally rich part of the nation which has supplied America with its most beloved artists, music and literature.

I’m shocked that as much as we pander to this region, we haven’t offered any realistic plan to bail it out this time around. You know, like we did in the 1930s with the creation of TVA, or Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Maybe it’s a sign of our dysfunctional government that we just can’t do big things anymore.

Donald Trump can’t save the coal industry. Neither can Republicans. Nor can Democrats. Coal communities are going to have to find the answer within:

The old mind-set that the region needs a big jobs provider – like coal – is hard to break. Younger generations watch their parents endure unsteady employment and worry about their own prospects. Older generations can’t visualize a different way forward.

One mistake outsiders make, many here say, is thinking all this is actually about coal. It’s not. It’s more about the life coal provided. Where else could you earn $80,000 a year with a high school education or less?

“Embrace the change or be left behind,” says Jeff Combs of Hazard, Ky., standing outside a bed-and-breakfast on a hill overlooking the community’s nearly vacant downtown. “Be open-minded. Be open-minded to more.” Mr. Combs’s father, a former coal miner, implored him to avoid the mines. It was tough work, dangerous and unhealthy in the long term. Combs’s father was on disability in his 50s.

Is there a politician out there with the guts and fortitude to offer a little tough love? Who can say, point blank, times have changed and you have to change with them? Today’s jobs require education and skills, that’s just the reality. Gone are the days when you could drop out of high school and earn a good living in the mines. That’s over. Blaming treehuggers or liberals isn’t going to change that. But blaming others for things we feel powerless to change just feels so much better, doesn’t it?

24 Comments

Filed under energy conservation, energy future, environment, solar energy

24 responses to “Signs of the Times

  1. democommie

    I’m definitely against fracking. I’m very much for taking 10% of the money we spend on an obscenely bloated military budget and using it to develop wind, solar and geothermal power.

    Fracking like nuclear power is a system for removing the profit to distribute to shareholders and leaving the expense of clean-up and remediation for the public to deal with. Just like coal and oil.

    Other than that, spot on.

    • Yes but privatize the gains and socialize the losses is exactly what coal companies do, too. All the health and environmental costs associated with coal mines? Those are definitely socialized — a perfect example being the retired miners’ health plans Congress had agreed to fund because the mine companies are dodging their responsibilities in bankruptcy court.

      It’s fine to be against fracking but then the alternative, at least in the short term, is coal mines. It’s strip mines. That’s the choice. Pick your poison.

  2. Kathleen

    “Is there a politician out there with the guts and fortitude to offer a little tough love?”

    That would have been Hillary, and we all saw how that turned out. There’s no incentive for speaking the truth when there are always goats to scape (usually black and/or female but always Democrats).

  3. Jim

    The problem can be solved two ways: 1) Start offering incentives for wind and solar companies to build plants and technology centers in coal country to provide better sustainable jobs. 2) Provide the necessary education/training so people in coal country can work in the high tech world.

    Education and training are the keys to saving coal country. It won’t be coal. Young people today need to understand the importance of education. Without education you will be on the lower end of the economic scale…

    • I think that’s one of the problems, though. This idea that we need to replace “dirty energy” jobs with “clean energy” jobs is a false choice. It’s not always an easy fit. These folks just want JOBS, whether it’s the energy sector or what. Manufacturing is technical, these workers with a high school education aren’t going to be getting the factory jobs making wind turbines and solar panels. And then there’s the reality that coal country towns aren’t in every case the best place to locate a factory, not just because the work force isn’t there but many are remote in mountain communities without access to the distribution infrastructure manufacturing needs.

      Education is definitely key, but then you’re also dealing with people who have a cultural affinity for the coal mines. That CSM article quoted people saying they had “the coal mines in their blood.” This holding on to a way of life that is dying is just sad.

    • Katydid

      But Jim, you forget the great swathe of “Rill Murkkkuns” in the “heartland” who are absolutely contemptuous of being trained to do anything. They refuse to learn anything new! New is scary!

  4. Our water heater is solar powered, but it cost us $6,000 to install it…. andpowers only the water heater. They should do something about the cost.

    • You should have been able to get a tax credit to cover part of it, depending on when you had it installed. Obama had a big clean energy tax program.

      We put a big solar array on our roof that cost a whopping $25K, which we’d never have been able to do without the tax credit. The problem with these clean energy tax programs is that they have a cap on how much you can claim. We did a big remodel of the kitchen and put in energy-efficient appliances, windows, etc. and now we’re done, we can’t claim any more tax incentives. I put in energy-efficient blinds in my office and was told I can’t claim the tax rebate, I’d “reached my lifetime limit.” I never knew there was such a thing. When we sell this house and move to a new one I’m going to want to install solar panels on that roof, too. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to claim a tax credit.

      • democommie

        The way that things are going in D.C. my next home is liable to be under a bridge,

        The problem with ALL alternative energy programs is that until they look ready to start turning a profit, the “traditional” energy folks lobby against them, employing the same sort of bullshidata as that used by the anti-AGW liars-for-hire. Then, when the gummint has invested some $B’s and a bunch of dedicated, concerned persons have figured out ways to streamline manufacturing/installation and worked out many of the technical bugs–the BP’s, ExxonMobil’s and the like start buying up those companies, patenting EVERYTHING and slowing the technological progress to make sure that they recouop their investment + some obscene level of profit.

        When you start seeing Sunny Days! Solar* power ads during the Super Bowl (or, better yet, the annual State of the Union) you will know that they’ve jumped the shark. It should be noted that Trumpligula and Ivanka have been awarded a number of previously unavailable chinese trademarks. And China is, at the moment, the largest and most advanced (technologically) producer of Photovoltaics.

        @ renxkyoko:

        Sorry to hear about your hot water heating issue. Sounds like you got hosed on that. The payback on that install must be about 10-15 years unless you live in AZ and use several hundred gallons of hot water, daily. Just a guess.

        The main problem with solar, wind and geothermal is that there are no people involved above the start-up level who aren’t perfectly willing to dazzle with footwork, or baffle with bullshit, the gullible–and often, trying to do the right thing–consumer. I’m too busted up to do it at the moment, but I’m pretty sure that I could install a minimally ugly homemade solar heating panel on my roof (I get good sun between 5-10 hours/day) to run my hot water during the summer and help heat the home during the winter. I haven’t run the numbers lately but the cost of Hi-temp pex and fittings has made what used to be a very expensive build a lot less so. Do some googling and you will find plenty of information on the subject, including youtubers.

        * A wholly owned subsidiary of TrumpligulablindtrustInevertouchanyofthisstuff, Inc.

      • Bob Fischer

        The reality is that this would have been the big difference between Hillary and Trump on energy. Hillary understood the cost implications at both ends of the consumer spectrum. Tax credits are the key to affordability of alternate fuels and the expansion of the industry. She would have done the right thing for the citizen because it was the right thing for everyone. Trump, on the other hand, will likely squeeze the individual citizen, to the perceived benefit of large money brokers, because he can and that’s how he rolls.

      • And will probably also embrace anti-clean energy ideas like “net metering” because Pence will tell him to and he’s a Koch puppet.

      • Bob Fischer

        I’m not sure I understand your point about net metering.

      • Groups like ALEC have model legislation targeting net metering that would erase or reduce the financial benefits from solar. They’re calling it “Electricity Freedom” or something similar.

  5. Bob Fischer

    “It’s a good question. I have to say, this is an issue where both sides get it way wrong. I love the anti-fracking people on the left, you know, the ones who just couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s “pro-fracking” and that’s a dealbreaker. Well then, are you in favor of climate change? Are you pro-mountaintop removal mining? Because those are the choices right now. Coal is dying — has been dying, for decades — because natural gas is ascending, and we get natural gas from fracking. So pick your poison.”

    Kinda sorta. The poison’s already been picked. We have enough natural gas tapped right now to last the next thirty years. Oil isn’t going away, and there will be plenty more natural gas found over the course of new oil exploration. We no longer need fracking and the idea that we must poison our water via fracking to extract natural gas is a false comparison. Fracking is about raising profit margins not about the necessary evils of the natural gas industry.

    As to solar, here are a couple sources. Look at your utility bill to get an idea of your usage.

    https://www.wholesalesolar.com/off-grid-packages?keyword=%2Bwhole%20%2Bhouse%20%2Bsolar%20%2Bsystem&device=c&placement=&campaign=49466276&adgroup=1177769816&creative=176420088950&adposition=1t1&product_id=&gclid=CLD98b3FudMCFY08gQoddx4J0g

    This is Tesla’s product; http://www.solarcity.com/residential/solar-roof

    It’s no big secret that our electrical grid is teetering on the brink of failure and that the production of electricity will by both consumer choice and necessity change radically over the next few decades. Coal is dead and fracking is poisoning our water supply. Clinton’s position on fracking did not keep me from voting for her, even though I disagreed with it. I gave her credit for being smart enough to evolve with the issue as the facts unfolded.

  6. Kosh III

    ” We need that “Apollo program for energy” that we’ve been promised, but it’s not happening yet”
    Yeah, I can remember Nixon proposing a massive push for energy independence by 1980. Then we got sidetracked by Watergate.
    Carter tried but Raygun killed that.
    We might have had some hope with President Gore but……

    • Bob Fischer

      And the Arab Oil Embargo. If we are to achieve energy independence, we will do it with renewable. We should be diversifying and ceding control to individual citizens, not consolidating and giving more control to energy conglomerates.

  7. democommie

    Dear Southern Beale:

    I know that you’re busy but Billy Graham’s daughter who is leading the National Prayer Breakfast (or as I prefer to call it, National Legislators Lyin’forJEEZUZ Day) has an interesting take on why the U.S. is so riven with dissent and discord–hint: it has nothing to do with KKKristianist overreach.

    • I didn’t know he had a daughter.

      I never really liked him, gotta say. I know he’s supposedly a beloved figure in evangelical circles, certainly more beloved than his awful son, but I never heard him speak where I didn’t feel scolded or shamed.

      • democommie

        I’m an ateist and have been for a while now. Prior to that I was a Cath-O-Lick who wasn’t buyin’ any salvation, anyway.

        Billy Graham and the rest of those GODLY hucksters are all cut from pretty much the same cloth. If they really believed any of that claptrap they spout then they’d be too busy working with the publicans, whores, thieves and lepers to hang around with politic–oh, wait, they are working with whores, thieves and lepers in D.C.

  8. paradoxresearch

    150,019 in the car wash industry?!

    • Do you think that includes those in the high-end auto detailing biz or no?

      • paradoxresearch

        Ma’am, even if it includes car wash psychics I’d suggest (as you have already pointed out – “.. coal in their blood..”) that there needs to be a whole paradigm shift that demands anyone wanting to fit into the economy needs to bring some added value, usually through training or education.

        This may be a tough sell, but it is a necessary one.

  9. democommie

    @ paradoxresearch:

    “there needs to be a whole paradigm shift that demands anyone wanting to fit into the economy needs to bring some added value, usually through training or education.”

    Except for in the killin’ trades. They’d prefer you NOT have any sort of real education when they get you in the military during war. It’s just so much easier to make unquestioning loyalty the prime directive when you’re inculcating people who are poorly educated.