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Published on September 19th, 2013 | by NRDC

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Solar Power & Wind Power Now Cheaper Than Coal Power In US

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September 19th, 2013 by
 

Originally published on the NRDC website (image added).

Image Credit: Solar panel, wind turbine & globe via Shutterstock

Image Credit: Solar panel, wind turbine & globe via Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — It’s less costly to get electricity from wind turbines and solar panels than coal-fired power plants when climate change costs and other health impacts are factored in, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

In fact—using the official U.S. government estimates of health and environmental costs from burning fossil fuels—the study shows it’s cheaper to replace a typical existing coal-fired power plant with a wind turbine than to keep the old plant running. And new electricity generation from wind could be more economically efficient than natural gas.

The findings show the nation can cut carbon pollution from power plants in a cost-effective way, by replacing coal-fired generation with cleaner options like wind, solar, and natural gas.

“Burning coal is a very costly way to make electricity. There are more efficient and sustainable ways to get power,” said Dr. Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can reduce health and climate change costs while reducing the dangerous carbon pollution driving global warming.”

Johnson co-authored the study, “The Social Cost of Carbon: Implications for Modernizing our Electricity System,” with Chris Hope of the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge; and Starla Yeh in NRDC’s Center for Market Innovation. Power plants are the nation’s single largest source of such pollution, accounting for 40 percent of our national carbon footprint.

“And yet, there are no federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants may release,” said Johnson. “That’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense. It’s putting our future at risk. We limit the amount of mercury, arsenic, soot, and other harmful pollution from these plants. It’s time to cut this carbon pollution.”

President Obama has vowed to do that, using his authority under the Clean Air Act to set the first federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution power plants may release. Critics claim that could raise costs. But, in fact, it can reduce the total cost of electricity generation, the new study finds.

Carbon pollution imposes economic costs by damaging public health and driving destructive climate change. Working together, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department, the Department of Energy and eight other federal agencies put a dollar value on those damages, in an official figure called the “social cost of carbon” (SCC).

The SCC is used to calculate the benefits (i.e., avoided climate damages) of carbon pollution reduction. The administration puts the best estimate at $33 per ton of carbon pollution emitted in 2010.

The study also included government damage estimates from sulfur dioxide, a pollutant released simultaneously with carbon. Every year, sulfur dioxide causes thousands of premature deaths, respiratory ailments, heart disease and a host of ecosystem damages.

Already, climate change is contributing to record heat waves, floods, drought, wildfires and severe storms. Such extreme weather caused more than $140 billion in damages in 2012. American taxpayers picked up nearly $100 billion of those costs, according to an NRDC report released in May, 2013.

“These damages are only likely to increase if nothing is done to reduce carbon pollution,” Johnson said.

To read the full article, The Social Cost of Carbon: Implications for Modernizing our Electricity System, click here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13412-013-0149-5

To read Laurie Johnson’s blog on this issue, click here: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ljohnson/scc_electricity_costs.html

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

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  • rally2xs

    Anything we do with respect to reducing carbon dioxide will be a waste of money unless we can get the Chinese and Indians and others to also do something about their digging coal like there’s no tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, all the measures we might use to do this are harmful to the American people, causing widespread hunger and early deaths from poverty. 1/6th of the nation struggles with hunger, and it is in large part due to environmental regulations that kill jobs and income taxes that make it a good idea to close factories in the USA and open them in countries with lower corporate income taxes, which are ALL the other countries on the planet since we have the highest corporate income taxes on the planet.

    Want to fix it? Pass the Fair Tax. The Fair Tax will restore prosperity to the USA, creating the world’s best manufacturing tax haven. That’s because businesses do not pay the Fair Tax, and the Fair Tax abolishes the corporate income taxes. Manufacturing would flock to the USA from all over the world, and most significantly, it would cause factories in China and India to close and be replaced with factories in the USA.

    Why is that good for CO2? Because we would generate the heat and electricity needed in the manufacturing with natural gas. Natural gas is 80% of the vaunted hydrogen economy that we were supposed to achieve in 2010 but didn’t, since the main component of natural gas is methane, and methane is composed of 4 hydrogen atoms and 1 carbon atom. So, 1 carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms burn when methane does, and that is 80% hydrogen, and MUCH cleaner than burning coal.

    This is the _only_ hope we have for reducing CO2 by the Chinese and Indians and other world producers. They don’t give one hoot in hell about our CO2 / global warming / climate change “problem”, the simply expect it to bankrupt the USA and leave them as the only manufacturing on the planet. We can turn those tables with the right business climate, and the Fair Tax, along with relaxing some of the more irrational environmental regulations, will accomplish that.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We have much higher per capita CO2 emission levels that India and China. Let’s clean our own noses, OK?

      India and China both have agressive renewable energy programs and are working to reduce coal use. China expects to hit “peak coal” in 2017 and then see levels drop. Both countries are much more aware/willing to do something about climate change than our right wing officials. Both also want to reduce coal use because of significant pollution problems. Both countries need to drastically cut coal use in order to free up large amounts of fresh water used by mining, cleaning and burning coal.

      It’s hard to see how switching from coal to renewables is going to hurt Americans or our economy. Right now we spent hundreds of millions of dollars each and every day dealing with the side effects of burning coal. We could be using that money for infrastructure or education and give our economy a boost.

      The “Fair” Tax is simply one more way to move money from the pockets of working people into the pockets of the wealthy.

      “Manufacturing would flock to the USA from all over the world”

      That’s bullshit. All it would do is to create a race to the bottom. Other countries would cut their corporate taxes. Then some would go tax negative.

      “This is the _only_ hope we have for reducing CO2 by the Chinese and Indians and other world producers. They don’t give one hoot in hell about our CO2 / global warming / climate change “problem”

      You’re either ignorant or a shill for big money. Only you know for sure.

      • rally2xs

        “We have much higher per capita CO2 emission levels that India and China. Let’s clean our own noses, OK?”

        Hey, we can make statistics imply anything we want to, can’t we, when we use a “per capita” measure to compare a country with 312,000,000 people to a country with 1,392,000,000, eh?

        “India and China both have agressive renewable energy programs and are working to reduce coal use. China expects to hit “peak coal” in 2017 and then see levels drop. Both countries are much more aware/willing to do something about climate change than our right wing officials.”

        And so they’re still increasing their CO2, and when 2017 gets here, only the gullible believe that they will do anything to alleviate their upward CO2 mobility.

        And the “right wing officials” are, unlike their leftist counterparts, deeply concerned about what environmental regulations do to harm the prosperity of Americans. Again, we have 1/6th of the population struggling with hunger, 92+ million out of the work force, 47 million in poverty, are setting records for food stamp usage, etc. etc. Environmental regulations and income taxes do a whale of a lot to make this so. The environmental protection agency is synonymous with the employment prevention agency. THAT is why right-wing leaders want to go easy on further regulations, and indeed would repeal some existing regulations if they would improve the employment situation.

        “It’s hard to see how switching from coal to renewables is going to hurt Americans or our economy.”

        I don’t have any problem seeing it. I know what I will see on my electric bill if we start generating with wind and solar. It will go up dramatically. This extra expense will ripple through the economy, since absolutely everyone, and most significantly our industries, uses electricity, and a lot of it. I’ve seen the charts, with solar being the most expensive, then wind, then natural gas, then coal, then hydro. We can’t do any more hydro because we’ve dammed everything we can, and coal _is_ being ramped down, while vastly plentiful and much cleaner natural gas is being ramped up.

        “Right now we spent hundreds of millions of dollars each and every day dealing with the side effects of burning coal.”

        Hundreds of millions of dollars, eh? In a country with 320 million or so people, how much is that per person? Does it compare to doubling my $144 / month, presently during air conditioning season, electric bill?

        “The “Fair” Tax is simply one more way to move money from the pockets of working people into the pockets of the wealthy.”

        How do you know? Have you studied it? Do you know how it works? Are you aware that no poor person pays a penny of it? The Fair Tax broadens the tax base, nailing the “shadow” or “under the table” economy, the illegal aliens that come here and take American jobs (don’t even BOTHER telling me the myth that they are jobs that Americans won’t do, as there is no labor sector in the country that does not have Americans outnumbering aliens) and then send the money out of the country to their relatives back home without ever intending to become citizens, the criminals, and even foreign tourists. The average taxpayer gets help from many new classes of taxpayers that are not currently paying a dime of income tax, or if they are, they are paying waaaay less than what they actually owe. The Fair Tax puts the kibosh on that. Everybody pays, especially the rich, who pay more than they do under the income taxes. The Fair Tax has NO loopholes, while the rich currently use the income tax loopholes to pay little or nothing. For example, I looked up John and Teresa Kerry’s income taxes (‘cuz he’s a politician, she’s rich, and due to his being a politician his tax info was available) and found that between them, they make $5M a year and pay about $1.8M a year. But, they have famously bought a $70M yacht. The Fair Tax on a $70M yacht would be $21M to the US treasury. It would take them 12 years of paying their regular income taxes to accumulate $21M of payments to the treasury, but the Fair Tax would get it in one purchase. Where’d a couple making $5M get $70M to buy a boat? I dunno, but suspect “old money.” That’s something the income taxes can never do, tax wealth. There’s just no category on the 1040 for taxing wealth, but the rich occasionally spend it, and that’s when they contribute to the Fair Tax.

        And the rich spend it. Michael Jackson spent it all, and died in debt. Nick Cage was making 7 movies a year when his accountant told him he would have to start making 8 if he wanted to keep up his extravagant lifestyle. Evel Knievel spent it all, and ended up living in motels. Doyt “The Refrigerator” Perry is reported to be working a construction job as a hod carrier just to live, since he spent all his NFL riches. And on and on. Yeah, the rich will get NAILED by the Fair Tax, and _we_ the average will _all_ pay less tax. The Fair Tax is the working man’s gift from the gov’t, if we can just get it passed.

        ” “Manufacturing would flock to the USA from all over the world”

        That’s bullshit. All it would do is to create a race to the bottom. Other countries would cut their corporate taxes. Then some would go tax negative.” ”

        Go to the Fair Tax page in Wikipedia, and look at footnote 63. It describes the survey commissioned by Bill Archer that asked 500 foreign CEO’s what they would do if America passed the Fair Tax. 400 said that they would build their next factory here, while the other 100 said that they would move their company headquarters here.

        Other countries eliminate their income taxes too? How are they going to do that? We can get all we need from taxing things for sale and services, but those other countries are all welfare states, and need much more $$$ than we do. They _can’t_ eliminate their income taxes. Ireland has managed to get their corporate tax rate down to 12.5% but we can undercut them with 0%. And its a huge political battle to lower and / or eliminate taxes at all, and we may never achieve it. If we do, it’ll take them decades to catch up.

        “You’re either ignorant or a shill for big money. Only you know for sure.”

        I am interested in restoring prosperity to the American people, and the Fair Tax, and NOT going overboard on environmental concerns is the way to do it.

        • Bob_Wallace

          So Americans who create 17.6 metric tons of CO2 per person should insist that the folks in China who produce 6.2 metric tons and the people in India who produce 1.7 metric tons clean up their act before we work on ours?
          Why should I pickup the six bags of garbage I dumped into the street? I saw someone else drop a paper clip once.

          Come on, man up and clean up your carbon footprint. We Americans wear a size 18 DDD while other countries were a 6 A.

          The nice thing is, we can clean up our carbon footprint, make our electricity cheaper, strengthen our economy, and cut down on future spending that will otherwise be needed to adapt (best we can) to a warming planet.

          When people are presented with facts they find inconvenient it’s not uncommon to hear the old canards about numbers and statistics.

          “Hundreds of millions of dollars, eh? In a country with 320 million or so people, how much is that per person? Does it compare to doubling my $144 / month, presently during air conditioning season, electric bill?”

          The estimates for coal external costs run between $140 billion to $242 billion a year. That’s $35 to $61 per month per person. You’re paying that on top of your $144/month AC bill. You pay it with your tax dollars and health insurance premiums.

          As for your electric bill, get some solar on your roof and be a producer, not a consumer.

          Now, all that tax stuff? It doesn’t belong on this site. This is a site that concentrates on renewable energy and ways to limit climate change. Personally, I don’t think you have a clue about economics, taxes and wealth. But we’re not going to get into that here.

          • rally2xs

            I’m just saying it is futile to reduce CO2 while others fail to do so. We just end up spending trillions of dollars for no good effect. All we do is harm the American people, throwing millions into poverty. Poverty kills, y’know? We kill millions of citizens with the effects of poverty, when they could otherwise be employed digging coal and other industrial things.

            “Come on, man up and clean up your carbon footprint. We Americans wear a size 18 DDD while other countries were a 6 A.”

            Hahahahahahahahaha! I’m guessing you can’t match my carbon footprint. I own an SUV, but drive a 4-cylinder sedan that gets 24 mpg. All lights that I commonly use are CFL’s. And, by Christmas of this year, my house is going to be heated and cooled geothermally.

            “As for your electric bill, get some solar on your roof and be a producer, not a consumer.”

            You talk like that’s free. It isn’t. Solar is expensive. Just did the calcs on an internet solar calculator: $33,271 including the tax credits. That’s to replace an electric bill that has, as its highest amount, about $150 a month during air condx season. A 30 year loan on $33K? $167.21, not including the escrow. I don’t know if that price included the inverters and the batteries, or just the panels. Even if its 100%, that’s not cost effective.

            “The estimates for coal external costs run between $140 billion to $242 billion a year. ”

            OK, before you said “hundreds of millions.” Make up your mind.

            “That’s $35 to $61 per month per person. You’re paying that on top of your $144/month AC bill. You pay it with your tax dollars and health insurance premiums.”

            So, my electric bill could be between, at worst, $61 + my spring $65/month electric bill and my summer $144/month bill. IOW, it doubles the price of spring electric and increases summer electric by about 50%. Still not cost-effective. And, I _still_ have to have grid electric to fill in if the area goes overcast for a few weeks. There is an infrastructure charge for electricity from this grid, so I STILL have an electric bill on top of the $167 / month solar payoff. Oh, and that doesn’t include any maintenance of the solar system, or removing the 4 large oak trees out front that shade this place, they are to the south. That’d be expensive. I should get rid of them, but then the neighbors would be sure I was Lucifer in the flesh, they only suspect now. And I should get rid of them because in a hurricane, they’ll probably come thru the roof and kill me, but as of the last hurricane, I’ve vowed to ride out all future hurricanes in a motel… in Cleveland.

            “That tax stuff” is the way we can mitigate CO2 production by foreigners, by taking their factories away from them. I thought you wanted to do something about CO2. Or do you just want to harm the American people with your expensive pipe dreams?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Most of the rest of the world is working on lowering their CO2 emissions. Many countries are way ahead of the US.

            Solar and wind on our grids lower our cost of electricity. Your “throwing millions into poverty” makes no sense.

            Your carbon footprint is much larger than mine but this isn’t a pissing contest.

            You may be someone for whom solar doesn’t work. At the moment. Keep watching prices, they’re falling. In the US we pay, on average, over $4/watt for rooftop solar. In the UK, Germany and Australia one can install solar for $2/watt.

          • rally2xs

            “Most of the rest of the world is working on lowering their CO2 emissions. Many countries are way ahead of the US.”

            And it is producing more and more CO2 anyway:

            http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2013/07/global-co2-emissions-increases-dwarf-recent-u-s-reductions/

            “Solar and wind on our grids lower our cost of electricity. Your “throwing millions into poverty” makes no sense.”

            It makes no sense to you because your premise is false. Solar and wind on our grids RAISES the price of electricity. Wind is more expensive than coal and gas and Solar is FAR more expensive. But the price of electricity is not what is throwing people into poverty (although it’s making things tougher for those that are already in poverty) it is the loss of jobs when the gov’t prohibits coal from being used, shutting down electrical generating plants where people work and shutting down coal mines where people work. This has a ripple effect, because businesses around the generating plants and coal mines also suffer because the electrical plant workers and miners no longer have disposable income to spend on restaurants, movies, and anything that can remotely be classified as a luxury. The miners and electrical plant workers are thrown into poverty, and the businesses around these places lay people off who also are thrown into poverty.

            “You may be someone for whom solar doesn’t work. At the moment. Keep watching prices, they’re falling. In the US we pay, on average, over $4/watt for rooftop solar. In the UK, Germany and Australia one can install solar for $2/watt.”

            I think that’s most everyone. Those getting it are zealots, not people saving money, at least around here. We have a LOT of sun here, but damn, that’s expensive. And I made an error in my calculations when I assumed a 30 year loan to pay it off. The site that shows the estimate for the price of a solar installation says that its life is 25 years, so I’d get to replace it before the loan was paid off. I think the monthly payment for 25 years was something like $187 / month.

            And I will start watching solar. But its going to have to get waaaay cheaper for me to jump to it. The electricity is fairly cheap around here, at about 12 cents a KwH, and I’d still have to take those massive oaks down in order to use it. The house is a ranch style so the roof is low but I don’t think the trees across the street are a factor.

            But my next “green” purchase may be the new $35K Tesla. I could totally negate my year’s income taxes by doing that.

            And none of my purchases will have a thing to do with CO2, which I still believe to be a fraud. Freeman Dyson, the guy that inherited the title of most brilliant physicist on the planet, is one of the signers of the 30,000 other scientists who signed the petition asking the gov’t to not spend money on attempting to limit CO2. I found statements by him on the net where he says that the purveyors of CO2-related climate disaster do not understand the climate that they are trying to model, and that it is not the CO2 itself that makes for the warming but what the CO2′s effect on cloud formation does to the heat in the earths atmosphere. He said that these models have huge “fudge factors” (or wild-ass guesses) of how the CO2 and clouds are related, and that we shouldn’t be spending money on guesses. The 0.11 degree rise in climate temp over the last 11 years tends to confirm a non-cataclysmic change is occurring and probably benign.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, rally, the world’s CO2 levels continue to rise. It takes a while to stop and reverse an aircraft carrier. It will take a while to get CO2 levels reversing, we’re in the slowing phase right now.

            “It makes no sense to you because your premise is false. Solar and wind on our grids RAISES the price of electricity. Wind is more expensive than coal and gas and Solar is FAR more expensive.”

            Now, I’m not sure it’s worth my time responding to you as I fear you’re one of those guys who “knows the truth, facts be damned”. But I’ll give it a try.

            First, let’s look at what adding solar to a grid does. I’m going to use Germany because they’re ahead of the rest of us.

            Look at the first graph. That’s the price of electricity in Germany before solar.

            Then look at the second graph. That’s the price of electricity in Germany after they installed just a modest amount of solar.

            (cont.)

          • Bob_Wallace

            (cont.)
            Now “Wind is more expensive than coal and gas and Solar is FAR more expensive.”

            Let’s talk apples:apples and oranges:oranges, OK?

            Let’s look at the cost of new generation first.

            The price of electricity from a new coal plant would be well over 10 cents/kWh. And that’s not including the external cost of coal.

            The price of electricity from a new wind farm is running about 4 cents/kWh. That’s a non-subsidized price. The average wind PPA in 2013 ran 2.1 cents. Add back in about 1.5 cents to remove the federal subsidy benefit and we get 3.6 cents.

            The price of PV solar PPAs in 2013 was around 5c in the sunny parts of the US. Add in 1.5 cents to remove the subsidy and we get 6.5 cents. Use that number generate a LCOE for the less sunny NE and we get 8.5 cents.

            New:new. Both wind and solar are cheaper than coal. At the moment wind and new NG are about the same with solar a bit higher. Solar’s price will almost certainly decline and NG prices will almost certainly rise.

            Now let’s do the orange:orange.

            Coal and NG have fuel costs. Wind and solar do not.

            The cost of generating electricity with either paid off coal or paid off NG plants will always be higher than the cost of generating electricity from paid off wind farms (O&M ~ 1c) and from paid off solar farms (O&M < 1c).

            The mistake so many people make is that they use the price from paid off coal plants and compare that to the cost of power from a new (and still paying off capex and finex expenses) wind or solar farm.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Solar may not work for you. But not everyone has massive oaks on the south side of their house. Solar is working for a lot of people and saving them money. As the price of solar continues to fall more will save with solar.

            You might find that a ground mount in your backyard might work. Or a part ownership in a community solar project.

            You do realize that a 25 year return is almost 3% per year? That’s not bad for a fixed rate return. And did you remember to increase the cost of your electricity based on annual inflation? A solar system locks an inflation free rate.

            Finally, panels are likely to last far more than 25 years. Our oldest array is now 40 years old and going strong. 25 years is only the warranty period. Cars with a 3 year, 30k mile warranty don’t fall apart at 31 years old.

            You might have to replace the inverter, but those prices have dropped and will likely drop a lot more.

            I’m not going to get into climate change denial stuff with you. We simply don’t waste space on deniers here.

            If you have questions about climate change I’d suggest you spend some time on this site….

            skepticalscience.com/argument.php

            And since you’ve been cornswaggled by that 30k petition thing, you might wish to start here -

            http://skepticalscience.com/OISM-Petition-Project.htm

          • rally2xs

            Solar in the back yard is preclluded by my future use of the area as another space for my 2nd ham radio tower. It also will be a tilt-over and needs the back yard for a place to tilt. I will, however, watch solar prices and if they become reasonable, I’ll try to find ways to make it work.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Solar may never work for you. With your low electricity cost and real estate constrains you might be part of the population that can’t make use of solar. Take, for example, someone living in a 16th floor apartment in a 40 story high rise.

            But what we need is about 20% of all households to install solar. Since the average US solar hours is a bit under five hours houses with enough solar to produce all the electricity they consume installs about 5x their average hourly draw. Doing so, when the Sun shines they are producing enough electricity to cover their needs and that of about 4 other households.

            That 20% number will rise once we start installing significant storage that 20% will rise, but that’s down the road.

            Give some thought to pole mounted solar. If you beefed up your antenna tower it might do double duty use as a solar mount and antenna base. Or you could always pole mount solar in front of the antenna tower.

          • rally2xs

            Oh, yeah, and you’ve completely blown off the poverty aspect of this. Just don’t care about your fellow Americans, the miners and power plant operators? Its not like there are other (good paying) jobs any more, just Walmart poverty-level stuff…

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, I have not blown off the poor. You miss the fact that renewables will lower, are lowering, electricity prices. You blew off facts that were stuck right in front of your nose.

            Additionally, closing coal plants will lower respiratory problems which can be cost items for households.

            Yes, closing coal mines will harm some individuals. Especially if they are unwilling to relocate. But not very many. The eastern coal mines are already labor-light due to mountain top removal mining with large equipment. Western open pit mining has always provided relatively few jobs. Mining is now done mostly with giant machines operated by a single person. Not crews of workers with picks and shovels.

            On the other hand we’re producing many thousands of new, good jobs building our 21st Century renewable grid. One can get certified as a wind technician in a few months of community college classes and be well paid. And installing solar is a lot higher quality job than working in a sub-surface mine.

          • rally2xs

            Bob, I was driving thru West Virginia a couple years ago when this attack on the coal industry was in full swing, and heard on the local radio there about 1200 miners being laid off. There’s LOTS of people that are getting harmed by this attack on coal, and lots and lots of coal miners to be harmed.

            And I think you’re being a little simplistic with your response to those that are laid off. Relocating is not the golden calf that will solve all their problems. Remember, there’s 47 million people in poverty in the USA, and if relocating would solve their problems, I’m sure that most would do it. Jobs just aren’t that plentiful, and the “global warming” alarmism is, I think, insufficient reason to be causing premature deaths from poverty-related effects such as homelessness, difficult or impossible access to health care, stress, hunger, criminal attack (from being outside because they are homeless) and so forth.

            Also, jobs nowdays are almost exclusively “part time”, other than those oil field jobs in North Dakota that are darn near 24/7/365. Those guys make serious coin, but the rest of the nation has been screwed, big time, by the current economy.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I grew up on the edge of coal company. I feel for the people who are losing their jobs but I’m not willing to sacrifice all the people on the planet along with all the other animals and plants in order to let people keep mining coal.

            (I don’t believe people will go extinct with extreme global warming, but along the way the majority of us will die out.)

            In 2012, approximately 670,000 people were employed directly or indirectly in the US wind industry. In 2013 143,000 people were employed in the US solar industry. These numbers are going to grow. A lot. These are good jobs that pay good money and one doesn’t have to worry about the mine caving in on them.

            Unfortunately some people who love living in West Virginia and other coal states are going to have to move to where the jobs are. (Or WV could start developing their wind, solar and geothermal resources and create jobs in the state.)

          • rally2xs

            Let them eat cake.

          • Bob_Wallace

            So you care nothing for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are now finding good jobs in America’s wind and solar industries? To hell with them, is that your attitude?

          • rally2xs

            I’ve already said I’m all for solar and wind. I’m just against shutting down coal-fired electric plants before they actually wear out and go off-line from no longer being cost-effective.

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK, rally, what’s your connection to the coal industry and/or someone working in the coal industry?

            Let’s figure out where you’re coming from. It’s clear that you value the income of a coal miner (or coal executive) higher than the incomes of thousands of wind and solar workers and higher than people’s health.

          • rally2xs

            We don’t have to compare new to new because we have lots of OLD electrical generators that are coal-fired. It may be a good argument to build gas-fired instead of coal-fired if you’re building a new one, but not a good argument for scrapping a working coal-fired generator.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Actually we do have to compare new to new.

            The average age of a coal plant in the US is around 40 years. Coal plants, like most other things, simply wear out and have to be replaced.

            Let me show you a picture of our thermal fleet. You’ll note, I hope, that our coal plants are getting very long in the tooth. We’re going to be replacing them over the next 20 years.

          • rally2xs

            Fine, when coal plants WEAR OUT, replace ‘em with gas plants, or better if we have it by that time. But using the gov’t to shut them down is not a good idea, I think, because of all the jobs it costs. BTW, the pic didn’t reproduce properly here, and is just a little box with an X in it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Closing coal plants creates more jobs than it costs. Sure, individuals are hurt. On the other hand individuals are helped.

            Plus millions of people enjoy better health and all taxpayers will save some money.

          • rally2xs

            “Closing coal plants creates more jobs than it costs.”

            That isn’t even logical, let alone having any studies to say so.

            “Sure, individuals are hurt.”

            Yep, that’s my point, and greenies just don’t care as long as they get what they want. I have a _big_ problem with that. Don’t do stuff that hurts people.

            “On the other hand individuals are helped.”

            Such as? Only thing you’ve said so far are some asthmatics that have fewer asthma attacks. I counter with people who die earlier because of being forced into poverty, and unlike asthmatics, there aren’t a few, there are A LOT of them.

            “Plus millions of people enjoy better health and all taxpayers will save some money.”
            No they don’t, and no it won’t. The electricity will be more expensive, or the electric bills plus the tax subsidies will be more expensive in the case of the Texas wind turbines, and the only ones that are helped are the people at the extreme fringes of respiratory diseases, a lot of those self-inflicted from smoking. Hey, don’t smoke, asshole… and 1000′s of miners are supposed to die early in poverty ‘cuz people are in the last stages of emphysema ‘cuz they’re boneheads and smoked like a chimney.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We’re creating far more jobs than we are losing.

            Coal miners will be inconvenienced by having to move to where the jobs are. That’s something that happens to people every single day.

          • rally2xs

            “We’re creating far more jobs than we are losing.”

            Makes no sense. You’re just ignoring reality now.

            “Coal miners will be inconvenienced”

            Killed.

            “by having to move to where the jobs are.”

            Pretty much none of ‘em are moving to China.

            “That’s something that happens to people every single day.”

            In a war zone, maybe, but gov’t-induced poverty and death should be restricted to war zones, not the home country.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Can you understand this?

            We are losing a few thousand coal jobs. Perhaps even tens of thousands of coal jobs as we shut the entire coal industry down. In 2006, there were 82,595 people employed in coal mining in the U.S.

            As we’ve lost those few thousand coal jobs we’ve, at the same time, created hundreds of thousands of wind and solar jobs. In the United States of America. Hundreds of thousands inside the US of A. And we will create hundreds of thousands more jobs as we accelerate our wind and solar installations.

          • rally2xs

            Still 47 million people in poverty. If wind and solar jobs were the answer, this would not be so. But as it is, coal miners are and coal plant workers are going into poverty when they lose their jobs, and their chances of getting another job that is anywhere as good is close to nil. There’s just too much competition. And it _is_ virtually nil when they’re over 35.

          • Bob_Wallace

            rally, try to post intelligently.

            Several hundred thousand renewable energy jobs does not mean a good job for the millions looking for any job or a better job.

            Losing 1,200 coal mining jobs does not mean millions forced into bread lines.

            If you want to discuss renewable energy then you need to show some ability to think clearly and use verifiable facts.

          • rally2xs

            “The Sierra Club’s war on coal has cost America 1,235,258 jobs. ”

            http://www.freemarketamerica.org/free-market-flashpoints/war-on-coal-jobs-lost.html

          • Bob_Wallace

            Wow! I had no idea.

            Let’s look and see how bad the slaughter has been over the last 14 years or so.

            Disqus is acting up at the moment and not uploading images, so you’re going to have to read numbers rather than look at pictures.

            In 2001, when George W. was sworn in there were 75,000 people working in the coal industry. When he left office there were about 86,000.

            PBO came to office with 86,000 people working in coal. By 2012 that number had risen to 88,000.

            The EIA gives some more precise numbers than my eyeballing a graph. 91,482 in 2011 and 89,736 in 2012.

            So since the end of the Clinton administration we’ve had an anti-slaughter. An increase in the number of people working in the coal industry.

            http://appvoices.org/resources/reports/AV_growth_of_US_coal_jobs_2013.pdf

            http://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/pdf/acr.pdf

            So, I’m having some problems maintaining my surprise.

            When did this massive job loss occur? Had to be before 2008. There’s no room to cut 1,235,358 jobs when you start with only 86,000.

            Can you find a reliable data source, not some anti-environment organization, to back up that claim?

            Might there have been 1.2 million people working in coal back before we introduced large mining equipment? If so, do you think the Sierra Club was responsible for introducing those big machines in order to take jobs away from people back in the 1960s or whenever we started mining with machines and not picks and shovels?

            I’d like to hear your thinking on this. Backed by facts from a reliable source.

          • Bob_Wallace

            From Wiki -

            Irish mining engineer Richard Sutcliffe invented the first conveyor belt for use in the coal mines of Yorkshire in the early 1900s. Within the first forty years of the 20th century, more than sixty percent of US coal was loaded mechanically rather than by man power. The history of the industry is the history of increasing mechanization.[11] As mechanization continued, fewer miners were needed, and some miners reacted with violence. One of the first machines to arrive at West Virginia’s Kanawha field had to be escorted by armed guards. The same machine introduced at a mine in Illinois was operated at a slow speed because the superintendent feared labor troubles.

            Despite resistance, mechanization replaced more and more laborers. By 1940, over 2/3 of coal loaded in the large West Virginia fields was done by machine. With the increase of mechanization came much higher wages for those still employed, but hard times for the former miners because there were very few other jobs in or near the camps. Most moved to the cities to find work, or back to the hills where they started.

            US Coal production since 1949 (US Energy Information Administration)

            In 1914 at the peak there were 180,000 anthracite miners; by 1970 only 6,000 remained. At the same time steam engines were phased out in railways and factories, and bituminous was used primarily for the generation of electricity. Employment in bituminous peaked at 705,000 men in 1923, falling to 140,000 by 1970 and 70,000 in 2003.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_mining_in_the_United_States

            So 180,000 in anthracite in 1914 and 705,000 in 1923. Taking a little liberty with the dates, that’s about 885,000 prior to the Great Depression.

            By 1970 the numbers were down to 146,000.

            885,000 – 146,000 = 739,000 jobs lost. Before George W came to office. Since then we’ve dropped to about 90,000.

            I’m not seeing anywhere in US history where 1.2 million coal jobs were lost. There never were 1 million jobs to lose.

            And it sounds to me as if the jobs were lost to machines, not to the Sierra Club’s “War on Coal”. Especially as we see that until the last couple of years coal use has continued to increase.

            If you’re going to read that right wind stuff you might want to do some independent fact checking. Otherwise you’ll end up with a head pumped full of garbage.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s showing for me. I’ll post it again.

            Makes no sense to replace coal with gas, 1:1. Does not a lot to reduce our GHG problem and means we’ll run out of NG much sooner. Some estimates find that we would use up our supply of NG in 20 years if we continued to burn at 2010 rates. We’ve increased our burn rate well over 2010 levels.

            Twenty years might be too soon, but NG is a limited resource and the faster we use it, the faster we use it up.

            Wind is already cheaper than NG. Close coal. Replace it with wind and solar. Install some NG if needed to fill in for wind and solar.

            We end up locking in cheap electricity prices. The cost of electricity from wind and solar will not rise as the price of gas increases.

          • rally2xs

            Ya know, I don’t need to look at graphs from Germany. That’s because Germany /= USA. Why not? Because natural gas costs in Germany are 7X that of the USA. Did you not know that, or think I did not know that? Putting wind / solar online in the USA _raises_ electric rates, partly because they cannot be used as base load sources due to the unreliability of the availability of the natural resources they depend upon. Want to spend on green energy research? Then figure out how to drill a hole deep enough to take advantage of geothermal heat, and not just near yellowstone, but ANYWHERE in the country. That is inexhaustible FISSION energy. It might even be expensive, but seems like it would be worth doing if we could make it work.

            As for your blowing off the opinions of Freeman Dyson, I kinda think he’s smarter than you and your alarmist pals, and will believe him until there’s good reason not to.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, rally, looks like I had you pegged.

            Damn those inconvenient facts. Just wave them away.

            (You might want to check with ERCOT. They’ll tell you that wind has lowered the cost of electricity in Texas. That will give you something else to ignore.)

            Even after I bring you up to date you’ll probably still believe that Dyson is a climate change denier.

            “Dyson agrees that anthropogenic global warming exists, and has written that “[one] of the main causes of warming is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from our burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and natural gas.”[44] However, he believes that existing simulation models of climate fail to account for some important factors, and hence the results will contain too much error to reliably predict future trends:”

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson#Global_warming

            Dyson argues over details. All scientists argue over details. And as they solve those arguments, science progresses.

            Sorry, rally, but you can either start learning facts or you can join the other old geezers on the porch shouting stuff like “Man will never fly”, “Cars will never replace horses”, ….

          • rally2xs

            Dyson signed the petition and Dyson said they climate modelers don’t know what they’re doing. Couple that with a 0.11 degree rise over the last 15 years, and I agree with Dyson about what he said by signing the petition – don’t spend a pile of money on this.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Take your badly informed self to Skeptical Science and learn why “hasn’t warmed in 15 years” is wrong.

          • rally2xs

            As for the relative costs of power from different sources, look at the table “Estimated Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources, 2019[13] ” in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source
            That shows wind with a 35% Capacity Factor because the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Its nice that Texas got some (gov’t subsidized) wind to lower their costs, but the subsidy is now gone. I’m betting they can’t do it again. That same table is showing natural gas as the champion here, so maybe we’re on the way to converting to an 80% hydrogen economy via natural gas. Dunno, doesn’t bother me if we are. Instead of miners, we’ll employ drillers. Fine. Even the same general area, so those West Virginia unemployed coal miners can maybe drill instead.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Capacity factor is not based on the number of hours per year the wind blows. The wind, especially in the windy center of our country, blows far more than 35% of the time. And especially if you get up 80 meters off the ground.

            CF is a ratio that is calculated by taking the total MWh produced in the year and dividing it by the hypothetical number of MWh that would have been produced had the turbine/wind farm run at full speed 24/365.

          • rally2xs

            Huh? And that doesn’t have anything to do with the wind not blowing? Then why do the wind machines have a 35% capacity factor when calculated like that? It says that the wind machine was doing 35% of what it could if the wind was blowing (or blowing at optimum speed.) Your darn right it has to do with the wind not blowing. And, I’m sure that the 35% figure has a lot to do with a lot of wind turbines NOT being located in the Dakotas, but in Ohio, and even Virginia. The Dakotas are the Saudi Arabia of wind, Ohio and Virginia are not, but still have wind turbines.

            And what it means is that you have to build about 2.5X the number of wind turbines as you do gas fired electric plants that pump it out at 85%. That accounts for a lot of wind’s high cost.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Slow down rally. CF is a measure of how much electricity was produced over a year compared to potential production if the wind blew hard 100% of the time. It’s a useful measurement for determining if the turbine was well matched to the individual site and if the turbine is being well maintained.
            CF is not a measurement of the number of hours per year the wind blows. One turbine might produce at full output 35% of the time and and not at all the other 65%. Another turbine might run at 35% of full speed 24/365. They both would have the same 35% CF.

            “And what it means is that you have to build about 2.5X the number of wind turbines as you do gas fired electric plants that pump it out at 85%. That accounts for a lot of wind’s high cost.”

            Don’t get hung up on CF. CF is one of the numbers used in calculating price.

            Pay attention to the cost of electricity produced and when the electricity is produced.

  • 4TimesAYear

    Leave out the climate change issue – that’s what got people bamboozled on these things to start with – you cannot make these things practical and they won’t be built w/o taxpayer dollars. They are a total rip-off. Climate has always changed – trying to stop it is like trying to stop the seasons from changing.

  • http://solar-power-now.com/ Solar-Power-Now.com

    We need more articles, like this one, that shows the “big picture” costs of each energy source. The environmental costs of fossil fuels are too high to be tolerated any longer. Solar is a cost effective solution now and will only get cheaper in the coming years.

  • Calvin Dodge

    It’s less costly when imaginary costs are attributed to coal power generation.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It is a damn shame that all those children imagine that they have asthma and waste health care dollars.

      They should just suck it up and enjoy that coal pollution, eh, Calvin? Put on their big boy pants and soldier on.

      Black lung disease? Poo. Lazy ass people looking for a free ride on Calvin’s tax dollars.

    • disqus_YbB9tbvvLq

      It’s imaginary to think republicans care about facts or the environment.

      • Calvin Dodge

        Because Republicans have a parallel world we commute from, right? So we’re not affected by pollution?

        It’s imaginary to think Democrats care about math – like the fact that there simply isn’t enough land available to generate all our energy needs from wind and solar.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Calvin, let me suggest that Republicans are less affected by pollution than other groups of Americans.

          Republicans tend to be rural, at least live in lower populated states/areas. Republicans who live “in the cities” tend to live not in crowded cites but in suburbs. Pollution impact is simply less when people are spread further apart.

          But that aside, you are incredibly wrong about the land needed to generate all our energy from wind and solar.

          In 2010, the US used 4,143 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity. (11,300,000 MWh per day.)

          Since we’re just guessing what our future grid would look like, let’s assume we get 40% of our electricity from wind, 40% from solar, and 20% from hydro, geothermal, tidal, wave, etc.

          4,143 TWh x 40% / 365 days = 4,520,000 MWh needed per day from wind.

          The average wind turbine is around 3 MW in size and median capacity is now 43%.

          So, 3 MW x 24 hours x 43% capacity = 30.1 MWh per day from each 3 MW turbine.

          4,520,000 MWh / 30.1 MWh per turbine = 150,166 3MW turbines.

          The footprint of a wind turbine is typically around 0.25 acres. This includes the tower foundation, roads, and support structures.

          150,166 wind turbines x 0.25 acres = 36,040 acres required for our wind turbines.

          The land needed to install all those 150,166 turbines would take the space of about 2.4 Manhattan Islands, 1.4 Disney Worlds, or 0.0015% of the US.

          Of course we’d spread them out so they don’t bump into each other….

          Now, that’s the 40% wind. How about the 40% solar? I’ll stick a world map on the bottom of the comment. On it you’ll see a small green rectangle on North America that shows how much area we would need to furnish 100% of our electricity with solar.

          Cut that rectangle down to 40% of what is shown (it’s 100% area). The cut it down even smaller because our solar panels are now more efficient than what was used to make the map.

          What you should realize is that we could find that much area on existing rooftops, over parking lots, over brownfields and landfills, even over highways and railroad tracks, if needed.

          I’ll stick another map on while I’m at it. It shows how much of our coastal area we would need to use were we to power ourselves 100% with offshore wind. (Remember, some of this and some of that – not all of one.)

          • Bob_Wallace

            In case your eyes glazed over with all that, let me boil it down.

            We could generate 100% of our electricity with wind and the turbines, access roads, ancillary buildings and transmission towers would take 0.004% of US land.

          • 4TimesAYear

            They take 3-5 acres each – how much corn, beans, and wheat are you willing to sacrifice to the wind turbine gods?

          • Calvin Dodge

            You missed a little something with your calculations. This is from NREL, which advocates just what you’re proposing:

            “The “footprint,” which is typically around 0.25 acres per turbine, does
            not include the 5-10 turbine diameters of spacing required between wind turbines.”

            So, let’s see. I’m not sure what 3 MW windmill you’re referring to, but I see (for example) that a Vestas V90-3MW has a diameter of 300 feet. Let’s take the smallest space NREL mentions – 5 times the diameter. That’s 1500 feet apart. So each windmill occupies 50 acres, not .25. You’re off by a factor of 200. Admittedly, if you stagger the spacing (so each windmill occupies a hexagon, rather than a square), then you’re off by a factor of only 134.

            Like I said – people who say renewables will save us can’t do the math.

            That doesn’t even include the 43% value you give for average output (when I searched I found values from 13% to 27%), or the fact that AVERAGE output does you no good for uses which require constant power (which is pretty much every manufacturing use, and realistically just about every other use, too). It’s even worse than that, given the way wind tends to decrease in hot afternoons, which is when air-conditioning use is at its peak. If you say “just add energy storage to balance things out”, you’ve just increased the cost massively, as well as decreased the efficiency.

            The real value you want to use is the average minimum, since power generated at 8 am does you no good when the wind is calmer at 3 pm. What’s that value? I suspect it’s a lot less than the “average”.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Calvin, why would we include the space between turbines? That land is still available for original use. We can graze cattle on it, raise crops or use it for whatever it was being used for before.

            I’ll stick a picture on the bottom so that you can see now land between wind turbines gets used.

            Now, let’s look at your claim that “there simply isn’t enough land available to generate all our energy needs from wind and solar” and your claim that we should include the land between turbines and up our land use from .25 to 50 acres per turbine.

            A 200x increase of “0.004% of US land” would be 0.8% of all US land. I’m afraid you suffered a math failure in your thinking.

            Finally, I don’t know where you found those outdated capacity numbers. You can get up to speed at -

            http://en.openei.org/apps/TCDB/

            - where you’ll find median onshore wind capacity to be 38%. Q3 is 43.86% and max is 50.4%. The upper end of the capacity range comes from newer tech turbines.

            Now, are we going to have to school you on how one uses wind and solar on the grid as well?

          • Kaleiokalani J. Barela

            I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a community, like Tehachapi, where there really are a LOT of turbines, but you won’t be hanging out near the turbines and you’ll notice that cows don’t like to hang around them. Maybe it’s the flashing, maybe it’s the low vibration, but they’re not comfortable. Mind you, it’s been years since we snuck up there. Oh, and the land is closed to public access, so you’re still not doing anything with it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            = 3,000 words….

  • Steeple

    Very convenient to leave out the assumptions of using carbon cost of $62/ton, $122/ton and $266/ton in arriving at this talking point headline. I guess the author is presuming that enough people would be dumb enough to believe the headline without actually reading the paper.

    Environmental groups like NRDC do a tremendous disservice to creating a “scientific debate” when they pull stunts like this.

    • Matt

      Yes the headline sucks. You can’t tell for sure without a link but it looks like they assumed a lower cost. “The administration puts the best estimate at $33 per ton of carbon pollution emitted in 2010.” But a better headline would have been “With externals accounted for coal/gas cost many time wind/PV” I believe that if you just add in the externalized health costs, ignoring climate, that Wind/PV are still cheaper than coal. But many people still believe it is the right of corp America to external as much of their costs as possible, and only pay those externals if you can beat them in court.

  • JamesWimberley

    Money quote: ¨For existing coal generation, all discount rates except the highest government value make replacing the average coal plant with new natural gas, natural gas with CCS, or wind more efficient than continuing to operate it.¨

    Note that this is the average coal plant, not the worst. However, coal generation is a mature technology and there won´t be much difference by date of construction. It´s not likely that many coal plants would make the cut and survive in a rational world.

    The intended audience for the research is the EPA, gearing up to issue regulations on coal CO2 emissions based on virtual carbon prices not current market costs. By the time a regulation lands on Obama´s desk for signature, the research will be outdated on both carbon damage (too low) and renewables costs (too high; the EIA has a miserable track record in predicting these.)

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