Coal doesn’t come cheap

Clean coal is anything but cheap, but that hasn't stopped some from trying to convince America otherwise.

What is the greatest public relations goal of those pushing new coal plants? Its not convincing Americans that “coal is clean”. Despite multi-million dollar deceptive "coal is clean" ad campaigns most Americans know that coal is just as dirty as it was a few decades ago.

“No longer cheap - so what next” read the title of the article I was reading.

It was something I’d expect to read in Gristmill, DeSmogBlog, or one of the dozen ‘No Coal’ listservs I’m on. But this was the May 2008 feature of an industry publication from Public Utilities Report. I was reading it just two days after the Wall Street Journal’s energy blog discussed the week’s report from Cambridge Energy Research Associates’ about rising capital costs for power plants. And the New York Times had some sobering thoughts for those drinking the ‘clean coal kool-aid.'

The industry article laid it out this way:

“Consequently, much of the 'cheap coal' thesis is emanating from what are essentially public relations efforts directed at utility commissions and state legislators. But the PR cannot hide the fact that coal isn’t cheap, or that no one is building coal without public guarantees.” With rising capital costs, soaring fuel costs, and imminent carbon costs, coal is one of the most expensive options to meet energy needs. And the only way a ratepayer, regulator, or investor will put money into a new coal plant is if they’re fooled into thinking that coal is cheap.

For me it started during a debate with a representative of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices in Iowa. He brought up those struggling to pay higher energy bills, people on low or fixed-incomes, and said denying new coal plants would mean they would suffer more. Actually the Iowa Office of the Consumer Advocate - whose sole job is to protect those ratepayers - is opposing the new coal plant precisely because it is the last thing people struggling to pay their energy bills need. They’re already being hit hardest by the mortgage crisis, and if Wall Street decides to put its money into risky and speculative coal plants our economy will continue to tank.

Because coal isn’t cheap.

When executives of energy companies tell the media and their members that a coal plant is the “most readily available and most affordable solution” they have crossed into a delusional fantasy. They have an obligation to their members to disclose all relevant information. In many cases they’re trying to sell their coal plants and failure to do so could be construed as false advertising.

As the ‘pushers’ of new coal plants fight their PR battle to convince ratepayers and regulators that coal plants are affordable we must respond. Because coal doesn’t come cheap anymore, and anyone who tells you it does has an agenda. And it will mean higher energy costs for all of us if they succeed.

Editor's note: please welcome our newest blogger on Coal is Dirty, Mark Kresowik, Corporate Accountability Representative for the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign.