Posted by: doug308 | August 28, 2009

Coal is Still King, For Now

Coal Train

Coal is dirty. Coal mines destroy the land. Burning coal is adding to global warming. And so go the cries of environmentalists, and those trying to sell solar panels. But the truth of the matter is that at least for now, we don’t really have any choice but continue to use coal as our primary source of fuel for commercial power generation. I mean think about. It will take at least 15-20 years for the nuclear power generation industry to get enough plants on line to replace even a small portion of the coal-fired plants now in service. Solar power and wind power, no matter what some may say, really do not show the promise of producing power on the massive scale needed to sustain the needs of industry and domestic consumption, and as far as hydro goes we have pretty much dammed up everything already. So whether anyone likes it or not coal is king for the foreseeable future. And aside from what I have just pointed out here’s why.

Aside from the fact that it is our most plentiful practically usable fuel, coal mining and the other businesses associated with getting coal into the chutes at the power plants represent an enormous amount of money and clout in this country. Even more than the big oil companies. An example of which is clearly illustrated in this exerpt from an article written by James Ridgeway a senior correspondent at Mother Jones; “coal-rich states, enjoy clout in Congress that even Big Oil can only dream about. West Virginia legend Robert Byrd chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the state’s Nick Rahall heads the House Natural Resources Committee. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is from Kentucky, and majority leader Harry Reid is from Nevada. Last year, Kentucky’s Republican senator Jim Bunning and Illinois’ Barack Obama launched an informal coal caucus on Capitol Hill  the two cosponsored legislation supporting coal-to-liquid plants (Obama has since backpedaled from the idea), and Bunning plans to refloat it this year. North Dakota’s powerful senator Byron Dorgan also backed legislation that would support a ctl plant in his home state.”Now to be sure anyone with any amount of political savvy knows that there needs to be some attention paid to the Green proponents. But even here’s coal ends up the winner. Ever seen the commercials for “clean coal” technology? How about “coal gassification”? The US government alone has provided the coal industry well over $4 billion in subsidies, tax break and other incentives in the last five years or so for these two technologies and others being considered so they can point a finger to what they are doing to help the planet. But when you add in the private money involved in this as well you get a tacit admission by the government and the others who really run things that coal is going to be what we’re burning to keep the lights on for quite a while. And if you think the government is considering otherwise take into account that most of the real money for solar and wind power research was cut from that big energy bill last year in favor of awarding it to things like better flue gas scrubbers and other technologies to capture carbon dioxide.

In 50 years or so, we will likely be winding down our dependence on coal as a power generation fuel. Who knows? Maybe someone will come up with a way to build that great big solar panel in space and beam power down to us. Or maybe Warren Buffet and will put all of his financial power into building a better windmill. But for now I think the safe bet is that Mr. Peabody’s coal trains are going to keep on rolling.


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