Future of energy will continue to change; have ups, downs - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Future of energy will continue to change; have ups, downs

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It seems as though the only thing constant in the field of energy is that it will continue to change.

A panel about the future of energy in West Virginia presented Aug. 30 to the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Summit featured discussions about several movements that have brought the industry to where it is today, as well as what the future may hold.

"What you'll see today is really the story of people striving to raise their living standards and improve their way of life," said XTO Energy Inc. Development Advisor Ken Golden.

Golden said there is an aggregate need for 35 percent more energy than what is out there today, but getting to that point is "very doable."

"Technology and human ingenuity make a difference," he said.

Trend toward efficiency

A trend in the industry is using energy more efficiently, Golden said, and economic growth drives the demand for energy.

"We see important efficiency gains, and we need more than three times additional energy, but the greatest source of future energy is really using it efficiently," he said. 

Golden said the demand for future energy should be looked at in four separate categories: electricity generation, industrial, transportation and residential/commercial.

He said the purchase of full hybrid cars will make up more than 50 percent of new car sales by the year 2040, and both wind and solar power "have a reliability problem."

"Once it becomes a very significant part of the power grid, we have to have a backup power plan, and natural gas lends itself to that," Golden said. "It's relatively buildable in a short period of time and can be turned around quickly."

Golden also said North America, as a whole, can become a net exporter of energy by the year 2030.

"When you look at the trends of energy, you realize a very long time period is required to move forward and change sources of energy," he said.

‘Changing to the unknown'

Another panelist, Nick Carter, president and CEO of Natural Resource Partners LP, told business summit attendees, "I wish I had a rosy picture" to depict the future of energy for West Virginia.

"I believe every coal has its day," Carter said. "We just need to find out when that day is and determine whether we want to own it or not.

"There is no wisdom in Washington, D.C., only ideology and egos."

Carter said "changing to the unknown" is the best way to describe how he feels West Virginia is in the coal business and to some extent, the energy business. He said the U.S. thermal coal industry is in the early stages of structural change, but metallurgical coal is very important to West Virginia.

"I believe we're in a cyclical downturn right now," Carter said. 

He didn't shy away from his political leanings, saying cap and trade wasn't compliance, but "a carrot on a stick to get the utilities in compliance with the standards that were set."

He said West Virginia "became the beneficiaries of bad luck."

"I hope you don't find it amazing that Congress mandated, as one of the ways that could be done, scrubbers, which were economically infeasible at the time they passed the law," Carter said. "It was hugely expensive, had a very long lead time to get scrubbers built, required a large amount of land immediately adjacent to power plants and in many instances, were not available in some of the older plants."

Political policies

He said President Barack Obama, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and the Sierra Club are "dictating environmental policy through the EPA."

Carter said the state began to recover from the industrial recession around 2005, but it's not fully healed yet. He said commercial and industrial uses for electricity are growing at a fairly steady rate, and while jobs aren't growing, the numbers are "at least staying steady."

Carter said the market will determine which kind of coal is successful.

"Coal has been the fastest-growing fossil fuel by consumption in the world in the last five years," he said. "It's set to pass oil as the largest source of energy by 2017 or 2018.

"If you want to know what Southern West Virginia is going to look like in a very few years, go to Eastern Kentucky; you'll find cities and counties that are totally in panic mode because they do not know how they are going to survive from a tax standpoint with a mass exodus of people leaving the area."