More than 70 percent of U.S. coal-plant capacity are already more than 30 years old — the operating lifetime for which coal plants were typically designed.
Instead of withdrawing subsidies from this dying industry and using it to hasten the research and development of renewable energy technologies, like wind, solar and hydro power, electricity producers are poised to make major new investments into dangerous, dirty, outdated coal.
The cost of constructing or retrofitting coal-fired electric power plants and the rising cost of coal have made coal power an extremely risky long-term investment, according to a report released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report, “A Risky Proposition: The Financial Hazards of New Investments in Coal Plants,” also identified a number of other factors that make investing in coal a gamble, including its continuing threat to public health and the environment.
Reasons Why King Coal Is Dead
1. The cost advantage coal power traditionally enjoyed over cleaner energy options has largely disappeared when it comes to new plants. Power from new coal plants now costs more than power from new gas plants, wind facilities and the best geothermal sites and much more than investing in energy efficiency.
2. Coal power is the largest U.S. carbon pollution source — contributing about one-third of all energy-related emissions and more than the entire surface transportation sector. Coal-fired power plants will inevitably face increasing pressure to dramatically cut emissions to help curb climate change. The cost of generating electricity from new coal plants could increase from 11 to 37 percent under a range of carbon prices in the future.
3. Coal plants also face new costs associated with harmful emissions such as coal ash, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are linked to thousands of deaths annually, and mercury, which threatens the brain development of infants and children.
“Plant owners have to decide whether to sink more money into retrofitting those old plants or replacing them with much cleaner energy technologies,” said Barbara Freese, a co-author of the report and senior policy analyst for the UCS Climate and Energy Program. But even if they retrofit them with the pollution controls available today, the plants will still emit massive amounts of carbon pollution.”
“Replacing old, dirty coal plants with cleaner, cheaper, less risky alternatives would be a much better bet,” she added. “And it would save lives, protect our health and reduce the emissions that cause climate change.”
Image Credit: Flickr - Eli Beck