End of USA coal burning plants

Note the Scientific American article stating that regulations from EPA will effectively end the development of new coal-fired plants and eventually force current ones out of business.  Hey, we can replace them with cheap oil, right?  I mean, coal only manages 23% of our nation’s fuel/energy.

The good news is that we’ll be able to export all of that coal to other nations to pollute the atmosphere with, while our energy production goes down, and gas/oil prices jump up to replace coal. And of course, we’ll have to get more of that oil elsewhere, because we aren’t allowed to pump/refine it here. And the transportation of oil to USA, and transportation of coal elsewhere will also add to cost and pollution.

So, who wins?


18 thoughts on “End of USA coal burning plants

  1. When taking a Mechanical Engineering class on Energy, we were shown a graph of the correlation between a country’s energy consumption and standard of living. Curtailing energy use will result in a lower standard of living for our children and grandchildren.

  2. That’s very true. If we took away all power, we essentially would force our children back to the days before the Industrial Revolution.

    That there are environmental issues regarding coal is true, but given the right incentives to encourage the industry to find cleaner solutions (like coal gasification), rather than regulate them out of existence, we may be able to create more jobs at a lower cost in the long run, and still maintain our environment.
    Example, How about for every kwh used, we tax a dime onto it to pay for environmental issues?

  3. Every summer we are inundated with college kids circulating petitions from groups like Sierra Club and similar in our town. Last year the petition was to get the state legislature to close down all the coal-power plants in the state. I asked the girl, “Fine, but what do you propose we use for power after all the power plants are shut down?” She looked at me and had no answer. I went on to tell her, she needed to think about these things before she got invovled with groups that like to complain, but offer no solutions, because I’m sure she didn’t want to live circa “Little House on the Prarie”. I’m all for coal power, we have so much of it. I’m also for nuclear power — which everyone is afraid of in this country. If we had nuclear electrcity would be so cheap — Pres Obama’s vision of all of us driving electric cars could be realized (snark-snark). Seriously, nuclear is clean and efficent. And if we used it, we could free up our coal for other things like coal-oil production, thus getting us off foreign oil and out of the Middle East.

  4. I thought we’d become so awash with natural gas that there was no reason to keep burning coal anyway. As someone who believes man-made global warming is a legitimate possibility, the idea of shipping coal to China is stomach churning.

    Personally, I think regulating things out of existence is the right way to go, in many cases, and that might be the case for coal. Yes, it drives energy prices up, but higher prices drives innovation.

    I’m all for nuclear. There’s a lot of new technology to develop, and maybe we could put ’em underground in Nevada (where the waste should be going anyway).

  5. Martin, in this instance, a quick change due to regulations may only cause us to enter into a Depression, without giving us time to resolve energy/environmental issues.

    With our government not allowing development of new oil fields or refineries, we cannot replace the coal energy we now use. Environmentalists are against nuclear, so that won’t help us. Solyndra has shown that solar power is not ready for prime-time, and will not be ready for another 10-20 years.

    So, our only other option would be to buy more oil from foreign sources. This increases our national security risks, as well as increases our foreign debt.

    Our only recourse would be to become a third world nation with nuclear power. You could expect unemployment to rise to 25% or more. Our $16 Trillion deficit would reach $20 Trillion much faster. We would have to drop Medicare and other programs faster, because we dropped our coal usage without a ready replacement.

    What we need to do is state we are going to replace all dirty coal power plants within 10-15 years, then establish a plan to get there with cleaner technologies, such as coal gasification, nuclear, and oil. Then have a strategy to work toward even cleaner energies in the longer term: wind, solar, hydrogen, etc.

  6. Rameupmtom,

    Where in the article (which is really just a summary of a report that isn’t freely available online) does it say that we’re going to burn more oil for electricity?

    Mostly it is the industry whining that “clean coal” which they’ve been advertising for years now doesn’t really exist and is expensive. The alternative, according to the article itself, is natural gas, which is a much cleaner fuel source and which we have so much of that oil producers in North Dakota currently don’t even bother to capture it.

  7. RJ, if we close our coal plants (23% of our current electricity comes from coal), then we have to replace it with something else.

    We aren’t building nuclear plants. We don’t have solar or wind technology good enough to replace it. We only have access to oil – whether our own or from somewhere else.

    So, we’ll burn more oil, at least in the short term, until we finally realize we must build more refineries and get oil here at home. North Dakota has lots of potential oil, but it will be several years until we get to it, even if we start now. And it still must be refined, requiring more refineries.

  8. Natural gas, natural gas, natural gas, natural gas.

    Is it registering yet? Two previous mentions have gone completely unacknowledged.

  9. Rameumptom,

    Did you read my comment?

    Generally oil powered plants are even dirtier than coal. We are not going to burn more oil for electricity. That’s just nuts.

    Also, we don’t _have_ to replace it with something else. Not entirely. We can can also conserve more.

    Finally, we don’t even _have_ to close the plants, that is a magnificent assumption. Even the article makes clear the industry that has been claiming that clean coal is the future refusing to build an actual clean coal plant. If their PR is to be believed this shouldn’t be a problem, right?

    As LL said: Natural gas!

    Got it?


    Natural gas!

    Again? Fine.

    Natural gas.

  10. LL — natural gas would be a GREAT resource, if we were allowed to use it. My in-laws live up in NE Utah. We drive thru the NW corner of Colorado to get to their house. In both states there are miles and miles of capped wells that had their leases voided shortly after Obama came to office. Now, some of those wells have been allowed to open again, but I’m sure if Obama wins reelection they will be shut down again.

  11. Natural gas is a great idea. Again, it will be several years before we have it all up and running. Until then, we need to keep our current infrastructure.

  12. I think the same carbon caps hitting the US will limit China too. We will adapt the way we always do, and be better off for it. These kinds of forced phase-outs are always overcome.

  13. Bradley, no they aren’t. They often take years or decades just to make parity. Government interventions harm people. Take the Weimar Republic for instance. In 1917, the German Mark was worth 75 cents (US). By 1921, government intervention caused hyperinflation to make $1 (US) equal to about 1 Trillion Marks!
    Japan’s interventions caused a malaise in their economy that lasted over a decade in the 1990s. It is known as the “Lost Decade”.
    France has normally had unemployment of 12% or more, because of government regulations. Greece’s government interventions now has the economy on the verge of bankruptcy, and in a desperate move, the people have elected neo-Nazis to get them out of trouble.

    Do you really want to cause the long food lines of the 1930s to occur again?

    Before you issue harsh regulations that will zap 23% of our power, consider the economic strife it would cause. Our middle class would largely disappear, as it tried to pay off $16 Trillion deficit while paying a giant fuel tax caused by government regulation. If you suddenly were forced to pay $10 gallon for gas, would you still feel good about quickly eliminating coal?

    Also, China is not interested in carbon caps/credits. It will gladly take our coal off our hands to help expand their economy, while we destroy our own, however. Sadly, China’s coal plants are dirtier than ours, so we still get global warming. The only difference is, Americans suffer, China doesn’t, Americans become a third world nation, China becomes the new world superpower.

  14. Rameumptom,

    I’m glad you at least typed the words natural gas. I’d still like a response to the remainder of my comment.

    The article (which I think is skewed) still gives a 25-30 year window for phasing out existing coal plants. So it isn’t like there is no time at all to transition to natural gas.

    Again, if the infrastructure isn’t there they can always build clean coal plants, right? The entire premise of the article seems to be that the long promised future of cheap, clean, plentiful coal power was a lie.

  15. I think clean/dirty coal is all a POV. For some, no amount of coal could ever be clean. I think that coal gasification can be clean.
    That we have 25 years to replace coal is fine, as long as environmentalists and government do not keep us from making interim changes, such as natural gas, oil, nuclear, etc.

    Coal plants are not phased out all at one time, btw. Most of our coal plants are ready for retirement now.

    However, if (as we’ve done since the gas shortages of the 1970s) do nothing, then in 30 years we’ll arrive at another crisis and not be prepared.

  16. Remeumptom,

    I am not claiming that they’ll be shut down all at once. “Phasing out” means a gradual process over time. Is the article claiming otherwise? Are you?

    As for clean/dirty being a matter of POV, I disagree. The real problem with “clean” coal is that it has thus far been a lie. Right now there is no such thing. That isn’t a matter of point of view. The industry wants it both ways: the perception that what they have right now is very clean, and no need to ever pay to make anything cleaner. Thus the ads touting clean coal, and fear mongering studies like this one bemoaning the expense of clean coal.

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