I hate writing about this stuff. Yet It seems that I keep getting my nose rubbed into it. The cloud people are determined to pound the rest of us into the ground by making what was once cheap and available into something that is expensive and unreliable.
I’m not by any means a champion of coal fired electricity.
The industry and its supporters use “war on coal” as shorthand for a ferocious assault by a hostile White House, but the real war on coal is not primarily an Obama war, or even a Washington war. It’s a guerrilla war. The front lines are not at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Supreme Court. If you want to see how the fossil fuel that once powered most of the country is being battered by enemy forces, you have to watch state and local hearings where utility commissions and other obscure governing bodies debate individual coal plants. You probably won’t find much drama. You’ll definitely find lawyers from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, the boots on the ground in the war on coal.
Beyond Coal is the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the Club’s 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement. It’s gone largely unnoticed amid the furor over the Keystone pipeline and President Barack Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon, but it’s helped retire more than one third of America’s coal plants since its launch in 2010, one dull hearing at a time. With a vast war chest donated by Michael Bloomberg, unlikely allies from the business world, and a strategy that relies more on economics than ecology, its team of nearly 200 litigators and organizers has won battles in the Midwestern and Appalachian coal belts, in the reddest of red states, in almost every state that burns coal.
“They’re sophisticated, they’re very active, and they’re better funded than we are,” says Mike Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman who now heads the industry-backed American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “I don’t like what they’re doing; we’re losing a lot of coal in this country. But they do show up.”
Coal still helps keep our lights on, generating nearly 40 percent of U.S. power. But it generated more than 50 percent just over a decade ago, and the big question now is how rapidly its decline will continue. Almost every watt of new generating capacity is coming from natural gas, wind or solar; the coal industry now employs fewer workers than the solar industry, which barely existed in 2010. Utilities no longer even bother to propose new coal plants to replace the old ones they retire. Coal industry stocks are tanking, and analysts are predicting a new wave of coal bankruptcies.
This is a big deal, because coal is America’s top source of greenhouse gases, and coal retirements are the main reason U.S. carbon emissions have declined 10 percent in a decade. Coal is also America’s top source of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other toxic air pollutants, so fewer coal plants also means less asthma and lung disease—not to mention fewer coal-ash spills and coal-mining disasters. The shift toward cleaner-burning gas and zero-emissions renewables is the most important change in our electricity mix in decades, and while Obama has been an ally in the war on coal—not always as aggressive an ally as the industry claims—the Sierra Club is in the trenches. The U.S. had 523 coal-fired power plants when Beyond Coal began targeting them; just last week, it celebrated the 190th retirement of its campaign in Asheville, N.C., culminating a three-year fight that had been featured in the climate documentary “Years of Living Dangerously.”
Beyond Coal isn’t the stereotypical Sierra Club campaign, tree-huggers shouting save-the-Earth slogans. Yes, it sometimes deploys its 2.4 million-member, grass-roots army to shutter plants with traditional not-in-my-back-yard organizing and right-to-breathe agitating. But it usually wins by arguing that ditching coal will save ratepayers money.
Behind that argument lies a revolution in the economics of power, changes few Americans think about when they flick their switches. Coal used to be the cheapest form of electricity by far, but it’s gotten pricier as it’s been forced to clean up more of its mess, while the costs of gas, wind and solar have plunged in recent years. Now retrofitting old coal plants with the pollution controls needed to comply with Obama’s limits on soot, sulfur and mercury is becoming cost-prohibitive—and the EPA is finalizing its new carbon rules as well as tougher ozone restrictions that should add to the burden. That’s why the Sierra Club finds itself in foxholes with big-box stores, manufacturers and other business interests, fighting coal upgrades that would jack up electricity bills, pushing for cheaper renewables and energy efficiency instead. In a case I watched in Oklahoma City, every stakeholder supported Beyond Coal’s push for a utility to buy more low-cost wind power—including a coalition of industrial customers that reportedly included a Koch Industries-owned paper mill.
We have the nominee of one of the major parties telling the American people that she’s going to make thousands of people unemployed. Fortunately she didn’t win.
To say nothing of empoverishing all those people with 401k’s with coal in the portfolio.
Of course this is nothing new, but up to now the Democrats have been willing to keep up the pretense that they weren’t going to leave us in the dark. Heretofore they’ve made sure to gaslight the public as much as possible.
That’s changed and now they don’t seem to care that millions might have to pay more than they can afford for electricity.
New England is run by idiots. Do people have to start to freeze to death before we stop being utterly clueless about energy. I mean seriously, I’ve watched every bad energy decision for the last forty years and not once, has anybody with influence said that bad stuff will happen. Well now we can live with energy poverty and the consequences of our bad decisions.: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/12/17/pipeline-and-nuclear-shortages-send-new-englands-utility-bills-soaring/
The stupidity, it’s just so mind boggling.:
We accept the same old pablum, spend fortunes on yet more energy “efficiencies” and turn down our thermostats. Decade after decade we get the same old green crap. Meanwhile the big businesses move away and the small ones close. Living keeps getting more expensive. Yet we turn around and vote in the Malloys and their cronies over and over, while we freeze.
They can’t figure out why we pay so much.: https://www.facebook.com/493843777362196/photos/pb.493843777362196.-2207520000.1419374726./745259742220597/?type=1&theater
Anybody remember these F***ing idiots.:
If they had their way NH and the rest would be even WORSE. We are SO lucky to have the nuclear plants we have. But try telling the greens that.
Two guys from Google got a bunch of money and went looking at the renewables with it. Guess what they found out.
The renewables don’t pay. I could have save Google a pile of money by telling them that. Pay me 200k or so and I would have put it into a nice report with power point slides. Instead they hired two true believing cultists form universities and wasted a big chunk of the stockholder’s money. Well it could have been worse. It could have been Spain or Germany.
Of course New England’s proximity to NYC and the predatory Wall St rentseekers doesn’t help. They can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to manipulating things like energy to their benefit and our costs out of pocket.
The essential problem is that for New England to function well, the states need high energy densities to go with the high population densities. This has been case since the mid 19th Century. In the 19th century hydropower was used to power the faomous mills which produced the highly technically advanced products that made New England wealthy. But by the end of the 19th Century most of the available hydopower had been developed.
This is what happen when you hand the keys of the kingdom to people disconnected from the consequences of the actions they take. In New England’s climate energy is life. We need to heat our living spaces and provide the power to run machines that create the regions wealth. Yet throughout my lifetime the powers that be in New England have consistently refused to expedite energy projects that actually make sense for the region and even now there are efforts to slow down or stop new natural gas pipelines for the new power plants needed to replace the shutdown coal plants.
Through boondoggles like Cape Wind, power plant shutdowns for political and rent seeking reasons and the inability to expand existing facilities, the region is fast approaching a time when growth not only stops, but the regions very viability is at stake. It’s time we stopped placing the burden of energy on the poor and manufacturers. It’s time that the powers that be dropped out of their bubble in the cloud and came down have to live with the same problems the rest of us do.