Monday, February 16, 2009

Is America ready to quit coal? Not now, obviously

Is coal, a mainstay in American energy since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, fast becoming its albatross? Increased concern over climate change has many expecting new regulations and restrictions that could send coal's relatively cheap price skyrocketing. "Is America ready to quit coal?" asks Melanie Warner in The New York Times.

“Coal is the dirtiest possible fuel,” said Patrice Simms of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We need to move away from our 19th-century fuel source.” This sentiment is echoed by a number of environmentalists, who say that "clean coal" is an oxymoron (and least for now) and that it is time to abandon the fuel in favor of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

Coal supporters say that this view ignores both economic and technological realities. “The costs for those customers in the heartland who get more of their electricity from coal, not only residential but commercial customers, could be significantly higher, at a time when we can least afford it,”says Jim Owen, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute. And there is not yet a national infrastructure which would support solar or wind power. The cost of constructing power lines to transmit the energy from windy and sunny regions is estimated at almost $100 billion.

While there is no commercial technology to remove emissions from coal-fired power plants, "the industry sees clean-coal technologies as its best hope for joining the ranks of green power," writes Warner. "The problem is that the technology, called carbon capture and storage, is still being developed and could make electricity generated by coal more expensive than power from other sources."

The effects of this battle, and the increasing costs associated with it, are being seen already. Warner notes that "in the last two-and-a-half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators." (Read more)

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