China is the largest consumer of coal in the world. But this week the National Energy Administration of China announced plans to invest more than $360 billion in renewable energy sources through 2020. It’s turning its back on coal and creating jobs at the same time.
Perhaps West Virginia should follow suit.
The reality is that coal is a dying and finite resource. This is a fact whether you accept it or not, and West Virginia would do well to be in front of coal on its way out.
West Virginia’s tourism industry simply isn’t enough on its own, and cleaner alternatives along with inevitability continue to strain the coal industry. While our state might not be the best equipped to "keep the lights on" in ways beyond coal production, and certainly aren’t the most willing to do so, we could find our home in another market. In fact, it’s imperative that we do.
This is something West Virginia’s new Governor Jim Justice has called for throughout his campaign, asking West Virginian’s to find the next "niche crop." But while it’s needed, fundamentally altering our state could be a long road, and innovation doesn’t just happen on demand.
But time is on our side as long as we start working toward alternatives early enough.
China has worked to cut its coal usage down for many years, and it certainly hasn’t come easily.
It remains the world’s biggest polluter, using roughly half of the world’s coal, and has repeatedly attempted to curtail its coal production and usage in favor of renewable sources of energy.
This has created a transitional period where China is simultaneously the greatest producer of solar energy in the world, as well as the biggest polluter.
During this process, the country has faced many situations where the only options were to relax its stated energy use policies, or pay significantly higher costs to get through the fuel-hungry winter season, when coal is most needed.
Despite the struggles, China’s coal usage reached what experts consider its final peak back in 2014 and has fallen since. While the data has been challenged in terms of real coal usage vs reported coal usage, this new investment could be the final step in turning the corner to progress.
If this investment yields real change in China’s fuel economy, West Virginia needs to take note.
Heading into 2017 our state faces severe budgetary issues while battling one of (if not the) worst opioid epidemics in the country. And transitioning from coal is just as difficult for workers as it is for our state.
The industry offers few transferable skills, a major problem in the face of such significant change. But this problem will not get better the longer we wait.
The longer we rely on coal the more significantly we will be affected when it is no longer an option.
So despite the hardships West Virginia would face weaning itself off of the coal industry, it’s an absolute necessity moving forward.
The sooner the better.