Lost in all the news torrent on the shutdown and debt ceiling debate is this bit of good news:
The U.S. Energy Information Administration produces an “Annual Energy Outlook” that attempts to predict costs for power plants that come online in 2018. Cheap natural gas has substantially changed the equation in recent years, because it is the least expensive energy source, by far. Then comes onshore wind (offshore wind is frightfully expensive), hydroelectric, geothermal, and then coal.
The EIA report in question can be read in PDF form here.
The coal lobby’s biggest selling point over the decades has been that coal’s the cheapest energy source around. That was never really true, not when the costs of coal pollution (including 15,000 deaths in the US alone every year) are considered. But now, even within the very constricted parameters of the equations the energy industries use to measure and define costs, other sources — including the renewable and sustainable ones like onshore wind, hydro, geo — beat coal right now.
Coal’s not getting any cheaper, either. As this Triple Pundit piece citing a Washington Post article from October 2012 points out, while the coal lobby claims that the rising costs of coal mining are due to the EPA’s regulations, the truth is that, just as with petroleum deposits, all the easy-to-reach coal has long since been mined and burned:
As described by [Washington Post writer Steven] Mufson, the problem is mainly geological. In some regions the “easy” coal is being tapped out, and the remaining reserves are thinner and more difficult to mine efficiently
In the past, new technology has been able to compensate for the increased difficulty. However, Mufson cites research by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which forecasts that new technology will not continue to have the same impact. That’s partly because the expense of new equipment is itself a factor.
Mufson’s article is rich in detail and well worth reading in full (here’s that link again).
Now you know why the coal lobby’s friends and fellow travelers have been plastering the financial press with a flurry of pro-coal and anti-wind pieces.
So what’s on your minds tonight?