Tracker Pixel for Entry

Are We Ready for the Death of Coal?

by HPR Contributor | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Culture | November 27th, 2019

Cover design by Raul Gomez

By Waylon Hedegaard

I have lived a truly blessed life. I’m married to the best human being on the planet and have a child that fills my heart with pride. But I know what made most this possible was that I was fortunate to stumble into a great union career. Most of my adult life, I’ve worked as a Union Boilermaker in coal-fired power plants. This work fed my family, kept a roof over our heads and allowed us to lead the lives we lead. Even with the reality of climate change, I am still proud of my work.

However, I am not blind to this reality. I love truth far too much to tell myself lies about climate change. I trust science far more than I trust my own desires or needs. Science has saved my soul, and I’m not about to doubt it now.

Climate change is real, and we are causing it. Period. The era of coal-fired power generation is coming to an end. The work I’ve done for decades will be no more.

Oh, coal’s not disappearing tomorrow. Huge sections of the technology to replace it doesn’t exist now at the needed levels. Elements of coal will be with us for a few decades, but we need to face the reality that in five years, there will be significantly fewer coal fired power plants in the US, and in ten years even fewer. Every year more plants will close, and more workers and their families will lose their economic stability.

This is great for the environment but terrible for those who bear the financial burden.

But let me state this plainly. No one can save coal. All the lies and promises in the world can only delay its demise and then only slightly. I have spent half my career talking to my fellow workers about the dangers of ignoring this issue, because many have bought into the lie that climate change is a hoax.

Yet in coal’s demise, it hardly matters whether we believe the science or not. In fact, the reality of climate change itself barely matters either. It’s not going to be new environmental laws that kill coal. It’s not going to be groups like the Sierra Club or Earth First. It’s not going to be subsidies for renewables or carbon taxes or any other “liberal conspiracy”.

The reality is that coal is being slaughtered by capitalism itself. It’s already in the chute.

I am hardly a fan of Neo-liberal Capitalism, yet it is hard to ignore the fact that the strongest forces crushing coal are the inevitable economic forces capitalism brings to bear. The only thing that would save coal would be socialism on the grandest scale.

In that light of coal’s demise, let’s discuss some uncomfortable truths. There are certainly many things that people hate about coal fired power. Nevertheless, there are benefits it has brought to North Dakota like the thousands of highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs. This has raised thousands of us out of potential poverty and allowed us to raise our families in comfort and security. In turn, this has given several North Dakotan communities the opportunity to thrive.

But in the supreme irony of our world, it’s also the thing that is killing it. Those thousands of high skilled and high paying jobs are the albatross around coal’s neck. Capitalism has no sense of loyalty or duty. It is the harshest of mistresses, allowing the survival of only the cheapest and most efficient.

Coal is a difficult substance to work with. It can’t be pumped out of the ground and doesn’t transport easily. Coal plants require a lot of people to keep them running, and they wear out quickly, requiring expensive maintenance. I know this well since maintaining these plants is what I did for twenty years.

Coal is slowly being strangled by the economic reality of cheaper wind, cheaper solar but especially cheap and plentiful natural gas produced from fracking. Ironies abound here but few are greater than the fact that with all the work the environmental community has done to fight coal, it’s strongest enemy by far is another fossil fuel with its own serious environmental concerns.

These other methods of generating power are becoming more efficient every year, and continue to improve. They require fewer people with fewer skills, and most of North Dakota’s coal power plants are on the older side of 40 years. The blunt truth is there is only so much that can be done to upgrade an existing power plant, and no one is building new plants… No one will.

The newer industries, including natural gas plants, can be installed in stages. Gone are the days where companies were willing to front the two billion dollars it would take to build a coal plant that wouldn’t become operational for years. All the newer generators are far smaller, cost far less and can be built and brought online much sooner for a better return on investment.

The new generation power plants are also more modular with virtually all the major components being built elsewhere and shipped in. In general, their assembly needs less skill and fewer people. Instead of tens of thousands of complicated welds, these new facilities are mostly bolted together. Furthermore, solar, natural gas and even wind facilities require less maintenance.

Requiring fewer skilled people to build, operate and maintain is a hard formula to beat. The truth is that coal is becoming too expensive to compete exactly because of the high paying jobs it created.

This is something that we all need to be more aware of.

Mark my words, celebrated they may be by some, these closings are going to be disasters for the communities that rely on them. Since the newer industries hire far fewer people for less money, many of these jobs will not be replaced. Towns like Beulah, Hazen and Stanton face becoming Detroits in miniature while thousands of families face a bleak economic future. We are rapidly approaching an ugly cliff.

Right! We know it’s going to happen so what are we doing about it? What is our plan?

Actually, we don’t have one.

And we don’t have one because both sides of the climate change issue are lying to themselves. I know that few want to hear this but it’s true. One side pretends if they remain in power, we can all live in 1975 forever… a 1975 without unions though.

But to make matters worse, many on the liberal/environmental side continue to think that the transition into renewables will be made without much concern thinking that workers can roll over into the new industries at the roughly the same numbers and rates of pay.

Both sides are just fantasies. The climate deniers are blowing smoke up their backsides. The science is sound, the 70’s are gone, and no law, or political party or president will ever turn this around. But understand that for our side to believe that this transition won’t have a significant human cost is just as misguided. Every major industry transition in history has been brutal on the workers, their families and communities. This will be no different.

Trump got elected, in part, by taking advantage of people’s fear of losing their future, and we helped him along by focusing exhaustively on the science and numbers yet ignoring the human element.

We’re the liberals and progressives here. The human element is supposed to be our speciality. It’s what we pride ourselves on.

Let’s not continue to make this mistake.

Recently in:

by Rob Hannahistory@nd.govAs I write this, the beautiful Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site in Jamestown is only partially furnished. But this photo, taken by my one-time colleague Guinn Hinman, caused me to see the…

by Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comTwo teenagers rescued around 20 Koalas from the horrific bushfires in Australia, fitting them in their car.An anonymous donor pays off back taxes for several mobile home residents. Neighbors with…

Thursday, February 6, 6-8 pmFront Street Taproom, 614 Main Ave, FargoThe ND Hemp Association is committed to lending education and advocacy to propel the hemp economy for the state, serving as a medium of resources, news, advocacy…

by Gary Olsonolsong@moravian.eduOn New Year’s Day, I was sporadically listening to Sirius Radio Channel 5 as they did their annual countdown of top songs from the 1950s and cringing at my fading aural memories. This prompted me…

Our Great Leader of the Zombies Is Tilting at Windmills AgainA few days after he was impeached by the House, King Donald admitted to a group of young conservatives attending a Turning Point USA annual summit in Florida he never has…

To say that this year’s Bartenders Battle was the best display of talent in the six years since its creation would be an understatement and a disservice to not only the bartenders who made it into the competition, but also the…

I am a voracious reader of anything culinary and a subscriber to several culinary periodicals. I like to hang onto them as I find it hard to throw away these culinary nuggets of information with their adventures to distant lands. …


Here’s to the ladies

by HPR Contributor

by Jill Finkelsonjsfinkelson99@gmail.comDeb Jenkins returns for a 23rd year of celebrating Fargo’s Women- and their music. The story is old news now, Deb tells me over the phone as I ask her- how did this start? 23 years ago, she…

The death on March 29, 2019 of Agnes Varda concluded a career perpetually in bloom. The legendary artist and filmmaker, unmistakable in later years under her wonderfully cartoonish yet delightfully chic two-tone coiffure, was 90…

“Surrealism permeates--there’s a legacy there with contemporary art where they’re still trying to capture or convey something that can’t quite be fully understood without the existence of that thing that you can’t fully…

by Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comHigh Plains Reader spoke to Act Up Theatre board member Jackie Shaw, about the fundraiser "Kabaret for Kaleidoscope" at the TAK Music Venue.High Plains Reader: How did the idea for this show come…

Stand-up comedy is traditionally a one-way exchange. Outside of the odd question addressed to a random audience member, the limit of the spectators’ contribution to the conversation is their laughter at the comedy stylings being…

Perched along the banks of the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela Rivers and tucked up into the surrounding hills, Pittsburgh’s 90 distinct neighborhoods are connected by more bridges than Venice. Commuters and travelers enjoy…


Yoga on the Farm

by Ryan Janke

Every Thursday evening during the month of June, Mara Solberg is inviting people to come out and try Yoga on the Farm. It is a unique yoga experience that was born from an idea that was proposed to Solberg.“I’ve been with Red…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

by Karen Andersonkartcone@gmail.comCongratulations to the Fargo School District for opening up a discussion regarding today’s students as covered in the January 7, Barry Amundson article “Social, emotional learning a forefront…