coal-plantBy Peter Galuszka

Coal is rightly the scourge of environmentalists. Economic pressure is on to shift to cleaner natural gas made plentiful by controversial hydraulic fracking. Political pressure is on to replace fossil fuels with renewables such as wind, solar and other methods.

In Virginia, Dominion, the state’s largest utility, relies for 46 percent of its generating capacity on coal and is moving in fits and starts to natural gas. It doesn’t get much from renewables. How much and how fast should it shift?

Yet out of Colorado comes a cautionary tale. According to The Washington Post, a family in the impoverished city of Pueblo is at odds running power. They only use a window air conditioner part of the time. They avoid using their oven in the summer. It uses electricity they not longer can afford because it overheats the house in summer.

For the family of Sharon Garcia, the problem is Black Hills Energy, which recently bought the local power company – Aquila, which got some of its power from a coal plant that was first built in 1897 with peaking extra power from Xcel, another utility.

Then, in 2008, Black Hills bought out Aquila and everything changed. Xcel decided it could make more money selling power at retail rates in Denver and not at wholesale rates to the utility serving Pueblo. In the midst of these events, a state law prompted Black Hills to shut down older coal plants for cleaner natural gas.

The state approved rate increases so Black Hills could build new infrastructure to handle natural gas and and rates when up significantly.

The problem is likely to be further complicated if the utilities move on the renewables, which, in the short term, are more expensive than either coal or gas.

This is not to say that companies should stick with coal forever, or natural gas. Renewables should still be the goal. But during the transition, green activists, many of them affluent, need to realize who pays the price. What’s a few dozen extra dollars for some is a tragedy for others.

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3 responses to “How Not to Shift From Coal”

  1. larryg Avatar

    one forth of the worlds population has NO electricity – Nada. Much of the developed world pays twice or more than we pay and uses about 1/2.

    our cheap energy is made cheap by burning coal.

    Many island nations have no native coal or other fossil fuels and have to ship in oil to run generators – that nets out at about 40-60 cents kwh… about 5 times what we pay on the mainland.

    we want our cheap electricity … and anything we do to move away from coal is going to cause major heartburn.

    at some point – who knows when – two things will happen:

    1. – solar panels will get dirt cheap and proliferate the world over – and big utility companies with sunk costs will want rate-payers to pay for it.

    2. – we’ll get no-meltdown Nukes.. perhaps small enough to be located much nearer to where the electricity is needed.

    at this point – all the hoopla about power plant emissions will end up in the rear view mirror.

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: ” “I’ll make sure President Obama gets the message,” she concludes, as she then flips a large switch downward at the power plant — setting off a series of events that result in the lights going out at the White House.”

      what a triple-load of BS no matter what left/right politico!

      West Virginia coal is nasty stuff – 3 times over.

      it’s high in sulfur and mercury. It’s dangerous to mine and they’re blasting off the tops of mountains and laying ruin to the WVA valley’s and rivers and it has zero to do with Obama and everything to do with coal politics long before Obama was a blip on the radar screen but these days – everything from the right – personalizes to the POTUS – even laws that have been on the books before he took office!

      At some point – Obama goes away – and the virulent types will have to “adjust” their Demonization to whoever the new POTUS is – and I guarantee no matter who he/she is – they will have the same policy with regard to coal – as it was before Obama became POTUS.

      I sympathize with West Virginians and we all should admit why West Virginia politicians – left and right – fall all over themselves kissing up to Big Coal’s backside matter who POTUS is.

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