The Rise and Fall of Coal in Ohio

The history and influence of the coal industry runs deep in Ohio. So deep, in fact, that the actual date when it was first mined here is unknown. However, one of the first accounts of coal in Ohio was in 1748 near Bolivar in Tuscarawas County and it was first reported to be mined, before Ohio was even a state, in 1800. According to the Ohio Coal Association, since 1800 there have been over 3 billion tons of coal mined in Ohio.

The state of the coal industry steadily increased over the years as coal began to replace wood as the most common source of fuel in homes and small factories. The introduction of the railroad and the advances in machinery continued to boost the industry and soon, the coal-fired electric-generating plant was introduced. In 1883, The Tiffin Edison Electric Illuminating Company was built, making it the tenth power plant in the United States, and the first in Ohio.

From that moment on, coal became a primary source of energy for Ohio and many of the surrounding states, especially Pennsylvania. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Ohio is in the top five coal-consuming states, however, “almost three times as much coal is consumed in Ohio as is produced there” and 90% of the coal consumed in the state is for electric power.

To keep up with the demands for energy as the years went on, these power plants continued to pop up, eventually totaling up to 119 coal power plants in 2005. This number has dwindled dramatically over the years as stricter regulations on air pollution have gone into effect. The coal that is produced and burned here has higher levels of sulfur, the exact element these regulations are seeking to reduce. For these companies, trying to make their coal “cleaner” and adding scrubbers and other mechanisms to reduce emissions just wasn’t worth it.

Large coal power plants all over the state are being put into retirement, and FirstEnergy has recently released plans to close their last three plants in Ohio. The Conesville Power Plant in Coshocton, Ohio appears to be slowly losing steam as it could potentially go from three operational stacks to one in the next five years.

What was once a booming industry in Ohio seems to be disappearing, so what does this mean for the people who are so deeply connected with coal? Generations of families have worked in the plants and mines over the years and the entire landscape of towns have been altered by coal. Will the disappearance of these coal-burning plants have an effect on the state in the long-run? Who will be affected and why? Where will Ohio coal go next?

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