Coal Will Remain Major Part of W.Va. Economy
Everyone knows the important role that West Virginia coal has had on our daily lives and the overall health of our state.
The coal industry has always accounted for an abundance of good paying jobs, a reliable revenue stream and funding source that supports a myriad of education and government programs and has contributed immensely to the overall economy of our state.
Moreover, coal has played a leading role in the electrification of America primarily due to the abundance and endless supplies of low-cost household and industrial power which has served to provide America with an incredible quality of life. Coal has undeniably propelled the United States as the world’s superpower.
Today, coal, and in particular West Virginia coal, is more important than ever as we flip the switch, turn on the boilers, and restart our economy.
Building out our nation’s basic infrastructure (highways, bridges, and rail systems) will require greater volumes of high-grade, metallurgical coal. West Virginia coal will be called upon to fill this need and once again demonstrate our value to our region and country.
West Virginia is blessed to have the richest and most diverse coal reserves with high quality metallurgical characteristics than any other state or country. “Met” coal is a prime ingredient in world steel making and manufacturing processes across the globe.
“Met” coal is in high demand and the percentage of jobs attributed to our met mines is on the rise, accounting for nearly 40% of our states total output today.
There is almost a one (ton of “met”) to one (ton of steel) ratio required in the steel manufacturing process and it has no substitute. You cannot make steel with wind or solar or other renewable energy forms. “Met” coal is converted to coke in special ovens and then added to blast furnaces where it melts the iron ore and infuses iron with carbon for strength.
Not only is West Virginia “met” coal relied upon by U.S. steel producers for domestic consumption, it is marketed around the world and consumed by 38 foreign destinations as a critical component of their manufacturing segment.
Also, as many underdeveloped countries grow their economies, basic infrastructure needs expand on a commensurate basis, thus greater amounts of steel and “met” coal are required.
In fact, some “met” coal begins its journey to become high quality American steel right here in West Virginia at Mt. Carbon Coke Works in the Northern Panhandle.
Remarkably, even with today’s current status, coal continues to represent 50% of all goods and products exported from West Virginia. State coal exports also account for about half of our country’s total volume of exported coal, contributing significantly to the U.S. balance of trade.
A healthy world “met” market not only helps to sustain coal jobs and state revenues but an increasing percentage of business from our in-state manufacturers such as J. H. Fletcher, Boyd-Cat, Rish Equipment Company, and Phillips Machinery and many others come from “met” operations. Our state is also full of smaller machine shops, manufacturing facilities and vendors that employ West Virginians that help to sustain in-state metallurgical coal and manufacturing operations.
Despite having vast deposits of “met” coal, our state mines are not without their challenges. Other countries, like Australia, Russia, Canada, Mozambique, and Mongolia, produce some variety of this product and due to their geology and global positioning, they maintain operational cost and transportation advantages.
West Virginia must nurture and set policies to accommodate growth and development of this great resource to provide economic benefit to our state for years to come.
Although coal’s percentage on the electric generation side has fallen, the importance of maintaining a certain percentage of coal within the generation mix cannot be overstated.
It is coal that provides the necessary base load generation to ensure the security and resiliency of the electric grid as well as the flow of uninterrupted power supplies and pricing stability for consumers.
During the recent pandemic, coal’s importance was felt by all as the world turned to electronics and computers for educational, recreational, and personal usage.
Our state’s abundance of metallurgical coal reserves is clearly a diamond in the rough and ensures that West Virginia coal will be a major part of the state’s industrial and manufacturing base for years to come.
Hamilton is senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, with headquarters in Charleston.