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Coal's Hidden Cost: $345 Billion

2/17/2011 12:12:16 PM

Tags: coal-fired power plants, coal production costs, renewable energy, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

A Harvard University study has found that U.S. reliance on coal, which generates almost half of the electricity in this country, costs taxpayers about $345 billion a year. Accounting for these costs, largely attributed to health problems and pollution in and around mining communities and power plants, would triple the price of coal-powered electricity, Reuters’s Scott Malone reports in Coal’s Hidden Costs Top $345 Billion in U.S.: Study. Coal is the source of about 45 percent of the nation's electricity, according to U.S. Energy Department data. 

"This is not borne by the coal industry, this is borne by us, in our taxes," said the study’s lead author, Paul Epstein, a Harvard Medical School instructor and the associate director of its Center for Health and the Global Environment, told Reuters. "The public cost is far greater than the cost of the coal itself. The impacts of this industry go way beyond just lighting our lights."

"This is effectively a subsidy borne by asthmatic children and rain-polluted lakes and the climate is another way of looking at it," said Kert Davies, research director with the environmental activist group Greenpeace. "It's a tax by the industry on us that we are not seeing in our bills but we are bearing the costs."

Interesting news for those of us who would love to trade in our grid ties for renewable energy—but can’t afford to do that yet. According to a great recent Natural Home article, Can You Afford to Go Green? The Costs and Savings of Residential Renewable Energy Systems, it would take me about 10 years to retrieve the costs of installing a residential wind turbine. That payback time would be slashed dramatically if I were paying the true costs of my coal-generated electricity. Worth thinking about.

coal smokestack 

Pollution from coal-fired power plants leads to health problems in many communities. iStock photo 


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John LeDoux
11/3/2011 12:25:58 AM
I agree with John, coal is clean and abundant. Now the EPA wants to clean the slight haze of maybe up to 10 days in ND for the tune of $700,000,000, causing us users 35% more a year. $700,000,000 for technology unproven yet!

john haendiges
3/1/2011 2:21:09 PM
I find myself growing tired of the arguments against the "evil" coal industry absent viable alternatives to it. Rather than villifying coal, our single most abundant energy source in North America, we should instead look for better ways to use it more cleanly as we gradually transition to greener sources. Change that does more harm than good is never the answer.

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