12 Aug

Coal May Be the Most Expensive Fuel on the Planet

Studies show coal to be one of the least expensive electricity-producing fuels.

At 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, who can argue? Solar is dropping from accounts of 12 cents (and up) per kWh to an estimated parity with fossil fuels, according to a study by Queen’s University. And wind power is becoming cheaper. There’s also something I only discovered called atmospheric chilly megawatts technology, however, I digress.

However, coal and its fossil fuel compatriot natural gas and atomic still have the edge since they are not dependent on the planet’s rotation.

Boiled shoe concept

Coal accounts for more than half of U.S. energy generation. It’s easy to transport, ignite and burns warm. Fantastic stuff if you are a shivering Charlie Chaplin in his classic silent film”The Gold Rush.” The key scene is where he eats his boiled shoe.

But coal extraction has become controversial. Mountaintop removal is not pretty. In addition, the state’s 491 coal-fired plants contribute an estimated 48 tons of mercury to the air every year. And dealing with the leftover toxic ash has proved dangerous. Just consider what occurred in the Emory River in Tennessee on Dec. 22, 2008, when 1.1 billion gallons of fly-ash slurry burst a containment lie enclosing an 84-acre pond.

Merry Christmas. It was the largest such spill from the nation’s history. And there’s potentially more where that came from. Wait for a good 100-year rain. Visit CoMate here.

Price accounting

Few company supporters of fossil fuels mention the environmental price of the favorite energy resources. Most prefer to shuffle which concept into the background. Until recently it has been limited to the fringe — a rallying cry for just the most hardcore greenies.

Little by little, other groups and people are realizing we cannot keep burning stuff and get away Scott free. The representatives in the Durban Climate Change Conference did not pass any binding agreements, but most did not mince words.

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations general-secretary, in a speech at the event says authorities and the private sector are working together on renewable energy and extolled it as a means to cut greenhouse gases while reducing poverty and generating economic development. “Let us prove that we not only know where we are moving – and how to get there – but that we are ready to take collective actions that can move us down that street,” he says.

See: Ash Formation – Slagging and Fouling in Boiler | CoMate

Point of no return

Apisai Ielemia takes it further. As the minister of international affairs, trade, tourism, environment, and labor for the little Pacific island state of Tuvalu, he’s well aware of the potential danger behind climate change. “We don’t have any time to wait, and we’re only a couple inches from the point of no return,” he says. Listen to his speech on Democracy Now.

As much as I love Americaspower.org’s recent TV advertising effort, coal will not have serious drawbacks. Nothing about untold millions of particles of mercury billowing into the atmosphere every year from coal-fired power plants is cost-effective. The dust settles across the nation and U.S. oceans and operates its way into the food chain. Should user groups begin to sue coal producers and utilities for damage compensation, I imagine the expense of electricity through the fossil fuel will rise significantly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year has proposed the first-ever federal criteria for arsenic, mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The movement is meant, officials say, to”cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, while preventing as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year.”

Health effects from coal

The proposed criteria are supposed to stop 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and approximately 11,000 fewer cases of asthma among children each year, the EPA says. Additionally, the rules are expected to stop over 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 days of work missed due to illness.

The 1990 Clean Air Act was supposed to take care of coal emissions. The delay took more than two decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued limits on the total amount of mercury and other toxics chemicals dangling in the piles of large coal-fired power plants Dec. 22, 2011.

Dubbed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, they’re the first national regulations to be set in place and were vigorously opposed by the coal market. The standards are meant to protect individuals from mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide, the EPA says.

“This really is not an issue of jobs versus the environment. It’s an issue of the American people’s public health versus a narrow special interest,” writes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a piece on Huffington Post. Bloomberg does state, however, that more than half coal plants already have set up measures to control their mercury emissions.

Mercury that the neurotoxin

An October 2003 report from the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management on mercury emissions from naturally-occurring electricity plants states mercury is a”potent neurotoxin particularly damaging to the development of the fetus, infant, and young child.” And while coal-fired plants, according to the EPA, would be the largest producer of mercury in the environment, they’re not the only airborne mercury source.

EPA’s December 1997″Mercury Study Report to Congress” estimates the amount of mercury delivered up into U.S. airspace to be 158 tons. That’s from garbage burning, natural and boilers emissions but most from”combustion resources .” Quite a heap, along with also the majority heads out over the ocean in regards back in fish.

The Northern States report states the most rigorous standards for reducing mercury emissions could remove 96 percent in the piles of coal-fired energy plants whereas the least would eliminate only 40 percent. The report’s authors say it is a difference of two and 28 tons.

Solutions exist however they cost

Some coal-fired power plants already have been retrofit with toxic emissions controls which would meet the most stringent reductions, but for many others, it would be a problem. For instance, biggovernment.com says:”In some circumstances, these companies just can’t afford to purchase the equipment and for others, the needed equipment is not commercially available. If this rule is implemented, it might force the shut down of many coal-fired power plants.”

According to a Government Accountability Office report by October 2009, several 14 plants using sorbent injection systems installed have complied,” allowing them to meet state or alternative mercury emission requirements — generally 80 percent to 90 percent reductions”

The GAO also found that the 14 plants spent an average of $3.6 million over the systems –“that a fraction of the price of additional pollution control devices” The pollution-control systems inject sorbents — powdery materials to that mercury binds — to the exhaust from boilers to accomplish the cuts, the GAO says. Plus it says the yearly cost of purchasing sorbents is roughly $675,000, nevertheless a small sum compared to the possible cost to human health in the future.

Health prices bigger

Somebody pays for health consequences. Unfortunately, when it comes to mercury poisoning, U.S. taxpayers probably will have to pick up the tab.

It’s merely a matter of time until these not-so-hidden prices start to be sensed and researched. There’ll be fallout.

And there’ll be an accounting of fossil fuels.

Questions will be asked. Just how much does accumulated pollution price? How much does climate change cost? How much can one fouled Gulf of Mexico cost? Just how much does that inescapable Arctic Ocean spill price after an idiot Congress opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to massive drilling? https://www.atlcombustion.com/applications