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David Bayless

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Bayless testifies at House committee hearing


ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio – State Rep. Mike Dovilla held a field hearing at the Ohio University Eastern Campus on Monday, Aug. 12, to discuss the current climate for coal in the state of Ohio, the future challenges faced by the coal industry and the economic impact on Ohio families.

David Bayless, director of the Ohio Coal Research Center at Ohio University and a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Robe Leadership Institute at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, was among those who testified during the hearing.

Coal-fired electricity was at the forefront of the panel discussions held at the hearing. According to the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, which Dovilla chairs, coal-fired electricity has provided Ohio with the vast majority of affordable, reliable electricity for decades and currently supplies 78 percent of the electricity that Ohioans consume.

Increasingly strict and duplicative regulations promulgated by the U. S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) have forced American utilities to announce that they will be shutting down 285 coal plants in 32 states, representing more than 41,000 megawatts of electronic generating capacity. Ohio will have 38 units closing, losing 6,850 megawatts as a result.

"All Ohioans should be concerned about the growing list of announced power plant closures in our state with no plan to bring online additional power-generating capacity to meet our current and projected needs," Dovilla said. "Ohio's hard-working families will be particularly impacted as analysts have projected electricity rate increases of up to 300 percent."

A diverse panel of experts provided Dovilla, the committee and those in attendance with testimony about the factors that have reduced the use of coal in power generation by 20 percent over the past five years in the state of Ohio as well as viable solutions to the trend going forward.

The panel included Bayless; Zane Daniels, president of the Ohio Coal Association; Ed Good, legislative director of the Utility Workers Union of America; Maureen Heely, Eastern regional vice president of the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity; Robert Murray, CEO and owner of Murray Energy; Sam Randazzo, general counsel to the Industrial Energy Users-Ohio; and Jed Thorpe, manager of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.

Bayless cited several reasons for the reduced demand for coal in the short term. These included the economic downturn in 2008, followed by warmer than expected winters in 2011 and 2012. However, according to Bayless, there are other concerns that are more formidable and long term, directly leading to the retirement or announced retirement of 27 gigawatts of coal-fired generation capacity in the past 18 months.

One factor is the cost of natural gas. "The recovery of gas from shale formations and new pipeline projects has made natural gas more available and less expensive," Bayless said. "Meanwhile coal prices have remained relatively high by comparison. When this market factor is combined with the increasingly restrictive regulations being promulgated by the EPA, the end result is coal asset retirement and increasing costs for new coal generation capacity."

Despite the uphill challenges, Bayless firmly believes that coal will remain a vital component in the electrical power generation for America going forward.

"Baseloaded coal plants not only deliver 40 percent of the nation's electrons, but also provide the reactive power to maintain transmission of those electrons," Bayless said. "Economically, the stability provided through the use of coal cannot be dismissed."

In his testimony, Bayless cited a study from the Heritage Foundation that illustrated a significant increase in the price of natural gas if the switchover from coal continues, thus increasing home and heating costs for the citizens of Ohio.

"For those and many other reasons, the Ohio University Coal Research Center is dedicated to finding environmentally responsible engineering solutions that will provide the most economically advantageous production of electric power and to developing engineering leaders in this field," he said.

Bayless closed by suggesting three things to promote the long-term viability for coal utilization in the generation of electric power in Ohio.

"First we need a revitalized Coal Development Office that would aid in the commercialization of technologies developed at Ohio universities and partner companies. Second, we need forward-looking policies that encourage fuel diversity. Finally, we need to invest in the development of energy engineers at the university level so that future generations are afforded the same economic privileges that we have had because of reliable and economical coal-based electric power generation."

CONTACT: Ohio University Eastern Campus Director of Marketing and Public Relations E. J. Schodzinski at 740-699-2503 or schodzin@ohio.edu