THE BLOG

The Bigger They Are ...

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Carl Pope Former executive director and chairman, Sierra Club

Topeka, KS - ... the harder they fall, and the Sunflower coal-fired power plant fell with a mighty thud today. With the support of a majority of Kansans, state regulators denied Sunflower its air permit, only weeks after Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius came out against it on moral grounds, making her state a leader in the national surge of states rejecting coal power because of its massive contribution to global warming.

"This decision clears the way for a bright, clean energy future in Kansas and across the Midwest," said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign. "The Holcomb plant would have locked the state into another 50 years of dirty, polluting coal energy and eliminated the market for the renewable forms of energy that are the future. Kansas, and particularly West Kansas, is now perfectly positioned to develop its abundant clean energy resources, help solve global warming, and create thousands of new family-supporting jobs."

The plant, planned near Holcomb, would have mostly served out-of-state customers while emitting more than 10 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution a year. The pollution would have made it one of the three largest new sources of global warming pollution in the United States. And the decision came only a few days after an Iowa economic development board disrupted plans yesterday by LS Power Group to build a 750-megawatt coal-fired plant near Waterloo by voting against an annexation proposal necessary to build the plant.

At the same time, a new poll (pdf) shows that "75 percent of Americans -- including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents -- would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy -- such as wind and solar -- and improved home energy-efficiency standards.'"

The poll was full of other bad news for Big Carbon: Only 3 percent of Americans said they would advise their power company to look to coal as a new electricity source; the idea of turning coal into gas or a liquid with federal money got support from only 15 percent; more than 80 percent of Americans felt that fossil fuels were the energy technology of the past, and that it was time for a new, renewable industrial revolution -- including 84 percent of Republicans.

But while Americans expect that innovation will transform the energy economy -- solar taking the place of coal as cars took the place of buggies -- this concept has not yet sunk into Big Carbon's archaic consciousness. Indeed, the industry seems to take pride in claiming that coal was a divinely intended power source. (Perhaps as far back as Bishop Ussher's calculated creation of the earth in 4004 BC?) At a Wyoming conference on climate change and energy, Fred Palmer, senior vice president of public relations for coal giant Peabody Energy, declared that "people use fossil fuels because the good Lord put them on earth for us to use."

Surprisingly, the stock market did not react to the Kansas announcement -- major coal stocks closed slightly higher, which suggests that the market may already have incorporated pessimistic views about future growth in coal-fired electricity, based on the drumbeat of warnings from investment analysts of the risks.

The trend is clear: In the last year, 16 coal plants with a capacity of 16,000 megawatts have been cancelled, and another 36 with a capacity of 32,000 megawatts have been postponed.