*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
I’ll say it up front: We are clearly biased toward renewable energy, particularly home solar systems. That much is obvious. Why we believe renewables are the future of energy is I hope equally obvious, but it can’t hurt to underline the reasons.
In just the recent two months, we’ve seen a series of disasters small and large that are a direct result of our continued reliance on dirty energy. Whether it’s coal ash fouling a North Carolina river or a little-known chemical used by the coal industry leaving 300,000 West Virginians without water, it’s clear that the price of dirty energy is much higher than we usually think.
Last week, clean energy visionary Jigar Shah — founder of SunEdison, founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, and more — detailed the healthcare costs of coal in a post on LinkedIn. The number is shocking: Shah writes that $60 billion of healthcare expenditures each year are directly attributable to mining, transporting and burning coal for energy.
That number is based on a 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, so you can expect that number has shifted somewhat — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2009 and 2011 coal production increased by almost 20 million tons, though we’re still 90 million tons below the all-time high for coal production set in 2008.
Nonetheless, we’re paying a hefty price for coal. Shah lays out a short list of additional costs from coal production:
- Fossil fuels cause an estimated 30,100 premature deaths each year, as well as more than 5.1 million lost workdays
- Coal-fired power plants need lots of water for heating and cooling, with as much as 41 percent of fresh-water use going to cool coal, gas and nuclear power plants;
- Pollution from power plants is a major cause of asthma in people of every age, with childhood asthma alone costing as much as $2 billion per year
- In coal-mining areas of Appalachia, 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to “mountaintop removal” mining practices.
The good news, as Shah has it, is that regulations put in place by forceful protests by concerned Americans ensure that the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants will be too expensive to run in just six years.
But what will be the replacement for this dirty energy? The powers that represent the status quo would have our power come from slightly-less-dirty energy in the form of natural gas and oil, produced in ever more invasive, destructive and polluting ways — and ever closer to population centers nationwide.
Shah argues that there is a better way: “Replacing old coal plants with clean energy solutions would represent the largest wealth creation opportunity available in the USA — $50B per year. Even without a plan and wide support, in 2013, the solar industry created more jobs than the coal mining industry.”
And he points us to The Solutions Project, which we just reported about on SolarEnergy.net yesterday: Scientists at Stanford have begun an ambitious project to map out a path to 100 percent renewable energy for each and every state in the U.S.
The project has already unveiled a roadmap for California’s clean energy future, as well as for Washington State and New York, and it will be interesting to see what the maps look like for coal country and other areas that are more heavily invested in fossil fuels.
In the meantime, check out Jigar Shah’s entire post and learn how you can take action to get us off dirty coal at The Solutions Project website. And while you’re at it, go solar if you haven’t already!
Matthew Wheeland is the editor of SolarEnergy.net, a sister publication to One Block Off the Grid and .
Coal miners photo CC-licensed by the United Nations.