THE BLOG
08/20/2007 12:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Coal Myths

A little while back I praised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for opposing new coal plants in his home state. Now he's clarified his position: he opposes new coal plants anywhere in the world. Word.

One grumpy note. Look at this:

Michael Yackira, president and chief executive officer of Sierra Pacific Resources, said his company "respectfully disagrees" with Reid's position. His company is seeking approval to build one of the plants.

"We believe what we'll be building is the cleanest coal-fired plant in the world" because of new technology, Yackira said.

"We must also have fossil fuel plants for reliability because wind and solar power is variable. We need all sorts of energy supplies to meet the needs of our customers," he added.

Here we have -- unchallenged by an opposing perspective -- two common myths propagated by the coal industry:

1. Coal is cheap and new technology can make it clean! Left unstated: once you add the new technology to make it "clean," it is no longer cheap. (For more on this, see Sean.)

2. Wind and solar are variable so we have to build new coal plants. Left unstated:

  • Wind and solar could provide a much higher percentage of our electricity before variability negatively affects baseload capacity. This problem, insofar as it is a problem, is way off in the future and has nothing to do with what kind of incremental power we need to add to the grid today.
  • The more wind and solar you build, the less variability is a problem; the wind is almost always blowing and the sun almost always shining somewhere.
  • Dozens of solutions have been proposed for the variability problem: long-distance transmission lines, smart-grids, large-scale energy storage, V2G systems. They all exist in varying states of development. If magic future technology can make coal clean, why can't magic future technology render variability irrelevant?

There is no ecologically or economically sound case for building lots of new coal plants. It's a quick, easy buck for some large corporations -- that's it. It screws the rest of us and our descendants.

No more new coal. Period.

This post first appeared on grist.org.