The “Coal” Hard Facts

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Written By: Mike Straub

We know burning coal in order to create energy is bad for the environment, but we also believe its costs outweigh the environmental impacts on the world.

But what if I told you coal is actually expensive? Not just pricey, but the most expensive form of energy in the US today?

Earlier this year, a Harvard study looked at the entire cost of coal, from extraction to combustion, and revealed coal energy to be one of the most expensive forms of power. Through research, the study found that:

whatever money is saved in operation costs is completely negated by the cost coal plants inadvertently pass on to the American public: $345 billion. These hidden expenses are not created by miners or utilities, but come from the detrimental side effects of coal burning, like health problems in mining communities and pollution around coal plants.”

Echoing similar concerns and research, the American Economic Review (AER) released a study this week verifying coal’s high cost. The AER is one of the country’s most respected economic publications, dating back to 1911. Ironically, they are based in Pittsburgh, the coal producing capital of the United States. A team of economists, mostly from Yale, examined the physical and economic consequences of six major pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia, fine particulate matter, and coarse particulate matter) from 10,000 sources of pollution throughout the study. They turned those numbers into “gross external damages” (GED), or the costs to clean up and repair damages by each pollution source. The conclusion – coal is America’s most expensive form of energy. Those gross external damages include things like sickness and death caused by pollution. Coal is the leader in GED.

The review understands that dependency on dirty power runs far too deep, but they urge people to recognize that the costs of coal power are much higher than the value added by the output. On the other hand, economists seem to only see conclusions and answers in terms of dollars and cents. They would likely make the argument for a carbon tax, or a cap and trade scheme on the coal industry. Those of us thinking in common ‘sense’ know the answer lies in clean, renewable energy.

If you review the six major pollutants, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion produces none – its gross external damages price is $0.00. Who can argue against that price for energy?

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