Bad News for Coal is Good News for Us

Previously I blogged about Big Coal's very bad week.  Well, it looks like it's shaping up to be a very rough year for the industry -- cheers to that!  Now the governors of Wisconsin, South Carolina and Georgia are jumping on the "bash coal" bandwagon by opposing coal-fired power plants in their states.  Grist cites three main factors that make investing in new coal plants an "economic turkey":

  1. a weak economy driving down energy demand
  2. a tripling in the cost of coal
  3. the prospect of tougher mercury and CO2 regulations from the Obama administration.

This bad news for the coal industry spells good news for the rest of us.  Burning coal is the dirtiest way to produce electricity.  In fact, the roughly 600 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. emit more global warming pollution than all the cars and trucks in America.

But coal proponents like to point out that coal supplies about half of our nation's electricity.  Their implication is that we can't do without coal, so why bother turning to cleaner, renewable alternatives like wind and solar energy?  In reality, the climate crisis demands that we move beyond the dirty energy of the past and we can power our future with existing technologies that won't pollute our planet or cook our climate.

We can also reduce our reliance on coal by reducing our energy demand.  Efficiency alone could cut 30 percent of U.S. electric use and avoid need for 60 percent of coal-fired generation, according to analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute

RMI even has an interactive web tool that details ways we can immediately save energy through efficiency.  This handy tool ranks the electric productivity of each of the 50 states, and points out opportunities for more states to adopt the practices of the best-ranked states. 

According to RMI, electric productivity among U.S. states varies dramatically.  Identifying ways in which states can "close the efficiency gap" would negate the energy demand that is fueling the drive to build new coal-fired power plants around the country.  As RMI's Natalie Mims puts it:

"Closing the electric productivity gap through energy efficiency is the single largest near-term opportunity to immediately reduce electricity use and greenhouse gases, and move the United States forward as a leader in the new clean energy economy."