WSIL -- This is the first year that coal is not the number one energy producer in the United States.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that in 2014, 39 percent of energy came from coal. But this April, for the first time ever, it dropped to 34.9 percent, beaten by natural gas with 35 percent.
Then it happened again in July.
Electricity demand went up from 384 to 398 billion kilowatt hours, from July of last year to July of this year.
Despite that increase, coal-fired electricity actually fell, from 150 billion kWh to 139. But the natural gas-fired electricity rose from 114 billion kWh to 140.
The Southeast and Central regions, which includes Illinois, had the largest increase in natural gas-fired electricity.
U.S. coal consumption is likely to go down even further.
The United Nations just had a climate change convention in Paris, which wrapped up December 12. Renewable energy is the goal, as global warming and climate change is becoming ever more clear to the world.
With green energy in mind, energy sources of coal are becoming the enemy.
Locally, a lot is changing. The Wood River Power Station in Alton closed its doors just last month.
Steve Carter, part owner and CEO of Knight Hawk, a coal mine business in Ava, said though they are not under any immediate danger of closing their doors, the future does look gloomy.
Of 30 customers in 2006, he said only eight are still buying coal because of new regulations. They have added other customers since then, so they do have more than eight customers.
“Frankly, it's got much more difficult in the last couple years. But it’s a lot of pressure, and it impacts us each and everyday,” Carter said.
Carter said all of their coal is either trucked directly to customers, even as far away as Oklahoma, or it is trucked to their barge on the Mississippi River, located in Chester.
Jeanie Coleman is a distributor for Knight Hawk. She said some of the more local customers include SIU, Choate Mental Health and Development Center in Anna, and Southern Illinois Power Cooperative in Marion.
But Carter said 75 percent of their coal is put on the barges. Much of it goes to New Orleans and over to Tampa, Fl. None of Knight Hawk’s coal is used internationally.
The coal industry actually affects many other industries.
“With everything, we have about 150 to 200 truckers involved almost everyday…full-time…trucking coal from our locations. So as our markets get impacted, our ability to utilize them gets impacted,” Carter said.
And of course, it also hurts barge business. Less customers for coal, means less barges Knight Hawk needs.
Knight Hawk employs 750 or more people everyday, including truckers and contractors.
“We’re going to be able to keep a lot of that going for several years. But if [the government] ultimately take our customers away, this business is going to dwindle and there aren’t other jobs for these people,” he said.
Carter said he understands it is not all the government and groups like the Sierra Club have a lot to do with it.
“And I understand. That’s their mission,” Carter said.
But Carter said the big impact everyone is upset about is CO2.
“CO2 makes up less than .03 percent of our atmosphere. It’s insignificant in the atmosphere,” Carter expressed.