The War on Coal-Fired Electric Plants
President Obama made a major energy policy speech at Georgetown University on June 25, 2013.
It is a total shift in energy policy to address climate change.
The centerpiece of the new plan is strict regulations imposed on existing coal-fired electric power plants to limit CO2 emissions.
It is one thing to create a few new EPA regulations; it quite another to consider the practical ramifications of those regulations. The President didn’t.
Here they are…
Electric Power in the United States
According to the EIA, in 2012 coal supplied 37% of all electric power generated in the USA. It is our nation’s single largest source of electricity. Natural gas was 2nd at 30%. Renewables (biomass, geothermal, solar and wind) supplied 5%.
Of the green energy contribution, wind turbines generated nearly all of it… a tad under 4%.
Solar generated just 0.11%. That is 1/3,200th as much as wind and an infinitesimal 1/100,000th of total electricity generated in the United States. That is less than a pinprick.
Nuclear and hydroelectric supply most of the remaining electric power (26%).
Total Renewable U.S. Energy Production
Overall, renewables produce 2.5 times more U.S. energy today than in 2001.
While a total of 193,981 thousand kilowatt hours sounds impressive, total U.S. energy production in 2011 was 330,000,000,000,000 thousand kilowatt hours. That is 3.3 followed by 13 zeros!! You need a microscope to see renewable energy’s electric contribution.
In the renewable green-energy universe, wind power has made great strides since 2001.
All others far less.
There is 18 times more energy produced today with wind turbines than there was in 2001. Solar has tripled in that time, but is a teeny-tiny fraction of wind.
In his Georgetown speech, President Obama bragged that the amount of wind and solar energy generated has doubled since he took office. That is true,
In his new plan, the President calls for doubling renewable energy production again by 2020. That is four years after he is out of office. Roughly 70% of U.S. electricity will still be generated by fossil fuels.
In President Obama’s new plan, renewable energy will still only supply a small fraction of electricity in the United States in 2020.
That means, even under the President’s own plan, increasing renewables won’t and can’t meaningfully reduce CO2 any time soon. It is physically impossible!
Coal CO2 Pollution
Water vapor is, by far, the world’s largest and most potent greenhouse gas. CO2 comes in a distant 2nd. Outside water vapor, CO2 accounts for around 80% of all the Earth’s remaining greenhouse gases.
It is estimated that 40% of U.S. CO2 pollutants come from coal-fired electric plants.
That makes coal-fired power plants a reasonable and logical target if you want to reduce CO2. That is what President Obama has chosen to do, not through legislation, but through new EPA regulations.
The Cost of Cutting Coal-fired CO2
Coal produced 37% of all U.S. electricity in 2012. In the President’s new plan, the likeliest EPA regulations will force coal power plants to install “advanced CC with CCS” technology.
The chart above shows that coal generated electricity that would have cost $94.8/Kwh in 2016 will now cost $136.2/Kwh instead. That is a 70% increase in the cost of the nation’s largest source of electric power!
That will make coal power cost more than wind, but still be 1/3rd the cost of solar. Off-shore wind is cost prohibitive.
But even under the President’s plan, by 2020 renewables will only replace a fraction of the electricity generated by fossil fuels.
That leaves only one of two outcomes:
- Electricity costs a lot more
- Coal-fired plants get replaced
Climate Change’s Dirty Little Secret
U.S. CO2 emissions are down, true, but President Obama’s green energy initiatives costing many $10s of billions so far are not responsible for any of it.
Furthermore, as explained above, the President’s newest plan using EPA regulations to curb coal-fired electric plant emissions can’t work either, without skyrocketing electric costs.
Green energy is a half century away from replacing coal’s 37% of electricity production. President Obama’s apparently plans to make electric power users pay 70% more for electricity generated by coal as an incentive to reduce CO2emissions. Not smart.
The only rational, affordable hope is replacing coal-fired electric plants with something else.
Fortunately, the fight against global warming has the unlikeliest hero; big oil fracking for clean-burning natural gas.
Natural gas is not only the cleanest burning fossil fuel, but it is also the cheapest. Now, with fracking and horizontal drilling, it will be plentiful for decades. The transition from coal to natural gas electric generation is already well underway. That and a bad economy is what is responsible for the U.S. reducing its CO2 emissions.
President Obama’s new climate change plan won’t reduce emissions much; replacing coal with natural gas by private-sector oil and gas companies will.