Bloomberg News broke the story this week about a very bleak outlook for a big industry in the West: Morgan Stanley is predicting coal will completely leave the U.S. energy mix by 2033, replaced largely by renewables.
University of Wyoming energy economist Rob Godby says this is the first time he's heard a prediction that soon, and he's skeptical coal's use in the U.S. could completely dry up by then.
"I'm not convinced there will be no coal on the grid, short of a regulatory ban of it," he said.
Godby points to protective state and local governments, especially in Wyoming, which produces more coal than any other state. And he noted newer, efficient coal plants that may hang on longer, even at a reduced capacity.
But whether it's 2033 or 2035 – which is the Biden administration's target for achieving 100% carbon-free energy – or some other date, "We're definitely closer to the end than many people even could imagine a few years ago," Godby said.
Godby says we may see one of coal's last rallies this year because natural gas prices are expected to go higher due to the pandemic. But moving forward, he says this could be the beginning of a switch away from fossil fuels overall as natural gas and gas-powered vehicles could see similar fates farther down the line.
Just last week General Motors announced it would stop producing all diesel-powered and gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.