The War on Coal
By William Walter Kay
Propaganda does not drive policy-making; it accompanies it. The Climate Change campaign is not driving energy policy-making; quite the contrary.
This posting comes on the heels of the September 21, 2012 passage, by the US House of Representatives, of a Bill entitled: Stop the War on Coal Act. While unlikely to soon become law, this Bill signals an overdue awakening to the threat presented by the War on Coal and hopefully heralds a robust counter-offensive.
This posting juxtaposes the recent histories of coal-fired power in Germany and the USA.
One irreconcilable irony of our age is that Germany, a country possessing relatively modest coal resources and being the redoubt of climate alarmism, is embarking on a coal-fired power plant building spree while the USA, “the Saudi Arabia of coal” and the stronghold of climate skepticism, is demolishing its coal infrastructure.
The world’s largest environmental movement organization, Germany’s state-owned Reconstruction Credit Institute, invests over $30 billion into “climate and environmental protection” projects every year. About 75% of Germany’s 23,000 wind turbines were financed by this Institute.
In the USA, between 2000 and 2012, enviro-activists inside and outside of government forced the early retirement of 140 coal-fired power plants and thwarted the construction of 170 proposed coal-fired power plants. Regulations passed by Obama’s EPA will shut down over 200 coal plants, and terminate new coal plant construction, over the next five years.
Natural gas’s surpassing coal as America’s main electricity-generating fuel did not result from shale gas undercutting coal in a market contest. The “dash for gas” was over before the shale gas revolution took hold. The shale gas revolution would not have been possible if gas-fired power plants had not been waiting to receive the shale gas. The “market triumph of gas” narrative ignores the fact that the critical years of gas’s ascendancy also mark the triumphal climax of the War on Coal.
The $45 billion takeover and hobbling of TXU Corp. in 2007 was not a rational business deal; it was political activism aimed at removing a potent and intransigent pro-coal player from the US electrical industry. It was done with “other people’s” money and “other people” lost money.
Germany’s rural landowners are the vanguard of the “Energy Revolution.” Most renewable energy assets in Germany are owned by rural landowners.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Coal and the German Energy Revolution
A Brief History of the War on American Coal-Fired Electricity
Six Supplemental Observations
Coal and the German Energy Revolution
“We have few resources in Germany, two of which are coal and engineering…In a hundred years, we will not have Russian gas or oil. But in a hundred years there is the sun and coal.”
So sayeth model German environmentalist: Frank Asbeck. In 1979 Frank stood shoulder to shoulder with Petra Kelly and Gert Bastion at the creation of the German Greens. He remains a party stalwart.
Today Asbeck drives his Maserati from his castle, through his private hunting grounds, to the Bonn HQ of Solar World. Asbeck is the CEO and main shareholder of this mammoth enterprise. He also owns extensive land holdings and 25% of the Hauck Aufhauser Bank. He’s worth around $500 million.
Asbeck champions renewable energy and “indigenous coal.” He is “a big fan of coal mining in the Ruhr…since I am a patriot.”
Germany is a small, densely populated country whose only natural energy asset is 40 billion tonnes of brown coal. Copious imports of black coal, petroleum, gas, and uranium strain trade balances. As humanity better harnesses the energy locked in these resources, and as energy grows in economic importance, Germany’s future dims.
Thus, Germany embarked on a survival strategy of subsidies, penalties, and preferences to:
- deploy renewable energy and fuel-efficient technologies across Germany;
- become proficient in the design and manufacture of these technologies, and;
- market these technologies abroad.
The goals are to reduce fuel imports, increase manufactured goods exports, and undermine the competitive advantage enjoyed by rival countries blessed with abundant energy resources. The Climate Change campaign, while not solely a German affair, is a deliberate deception used by German elites to advance this strategy.
All major German political parties endorse the “Energy Revolution.” All believe “ecological modernization” creates international market opportunities. All believe: “Germany will provide the solutions to global warming.”
The strategy is working. In 2010 renewable energies displaced $6 billion in fuel imports. By 2015 it is hoped “avoided fossil fuel imports” will exceed $20 billion a year. In 2011 green technology exports surpassed $12 billion. Germany produces 30% of the world’s wind turbines.
In the 1970s renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, bio-fuel) were ecotopian fantasies. In the early 1990s experimental renewable projects sprouted. By 2004 Germany’s renewable energy sector employed 160,000 workers. By 2011 it employed 370,000. By 2020 it will employ 500,000.
Between 1990 and 2010 renewables’ share of Germany’s electricity market went from 0% to 18%. Germany’s electricity mix is now: coal 43%, nuclear 21%, natural gas 13%, renewable 18%, and other 5%.
The Energy Revolution’s manifesto is 14 Federal Laws bundled into the “Meseberg Program” in 2007. Meseberg aims to have renewables provide 35% of electricity by 2020 – 66% by 2030. Meseberg presumes public and private investments in renewables of $22 billion per year.
A Meseberg cornerstone, Feed-in-Tariffs for renewable electricity, originated with the Christian Democrat government in 1991. The impetus came from small power producers in Bavaria seeking access to the grid. The 1991 regs forced utilities to feed small producers’ power into the grid.
The Renewable Energy Sources Act, with its compulsory 20-year Feed-in-Tariff contracts, was concocted by the Social Democrat/Green coalition in 2000 but revised several times since. Grid operators must accept electricity from wind farms, solar arrays, and bio-gas plants in preference to the output of nuclear, coal, or gas plants. Grid operators must bear the cost of hooking up renewable generators to the grid. Consumers must pay tariffs, above market prices, to renewable producers. German proselytizing spread this program to 65 jurisdictions around the world.
Meseberg anticipates Germany having 50,000 MW of photovoltaic capacity by 2020. Presently 18,000 MW of photovoltaic capacity provides 2% of German electricity. The 7,400 MW installed in 2010 was 40% of the global photovoltaic market. Italy became the top solar panel buyer in 2011. Germany remains Europe’s biggest solar thermal market.
The solar industry has hit a rough patch. Installation exceeded expectation and the grid is unable accommodate this output. Due to a paring back of subsidies, the industry is a experiencing a shakeout. Rumours of its death are exaggerations.
In 1990 Germany possessed a few experimental wind farms. Now Germany sports 23,000 wind turbines with a capacity of 29,000 MW.
The renewable electricity industry executed a coup in 2011 when, amidst the hysteria ginned up around the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Federal Government announced a nuclear power phase out by 2022. Inscrutably, the post-Fukushima plan envisioned cutting electricity consumption by 10% while increasing Germany’s electric cars fleet from 4,000 to 1,000,000 (this has since been reconsidered).
The Energy Revolution benefits landowners, particularly rural ones. The catalysts in the transition to the “low carbon economy” are rural landowners. The Federation of German Farmers is a vociferous advocate of renewable energy.
Less than 0.5% of Germany’s 82 million citizens own an acre. Two-thirds of German households are tenants. (The term “farmer” is elastic, and there are conflicting German stats on the ratio of rented versus owner-occupied farms. Tenant farmers are far more common in Germany than America.)
Rural landowners initiated wind power in the 1990s. By 2000, 75% of Germany’s 6,100 MW of wind power was owned by rural landowners. In 2000, after urban investors entered the market, rural landowners’ share of wind power ownership declined, but they continued to build turbines. Moreover, they rent their land to urban wind investors.
Farmers own 20% of Germany’s photovoltaic panels. Analysts foresee great potential to expand the deployment of solar panels on barn roofs, surplus pastures, etc. Owners of estates, cottages, and large suburban properties are also major solar panel installers.
Germany’s post-2000 bio-fuel boom is entirely rural and heavily state-subsidized.
In 2008 the Federal Government announced a $500 million incentive program for bio-fuels. This was topped up with $700 million for the years 2009 to 2012.
Additional funding for bio-mass and bio-gas projects comes through the Agriculture Investment Support Program, which classifies such expenditures as “coastal environment protection.” The Federal Government provides 60% of funding.
The Agricultural Pension Bank has financed over 1,000 small rural renewable energy projects.
The state bank, KfW, has financed several thousand bio-gas, bio-mass, and co-generation plants.
As well, hundreds of “machine syndicates,” representing thousands of small- and-medium-sized manufacturing and engineering firms involved in renewable energy, counsel farmers on renewable opportunities and organize farmers into purchasing co-ops.
As of 2009 German gasoline stations must sell gasoline blended with 10% ethanol. German farmers supply the feedstock to Germany’s nine ethanol plants, which distill 600,000 tonnes a year. Three-hundred and fifty stations offer an experimental 85% ethanol fuel. Only “flex fuel” cars can burn this fuel. German car companies are feverishly developing such cars.
5,000,000 acres, 17% of German farmland, grow energy crops (canola for bio-diesel; corn and sugar beets for ethanol).
Bio-fuel policies rescued farmers from the “food commodity price roller coaster.” By burning part of their harvest as fuel, farmers can demand higher prices for the remainder they sell as food. Bio-fuels provide a sizable portion of farm income. Farmers are “eco-energy entrepreneurs.”
Germany produces half of Europe’s bio-gas. (Bio-gas is methane derived from manure and silage – commodities hitherto used for fertilizer). Since 2008 bio-gas has been fed into the natural gas pipeline grid. Bio-gas is also used to generate electricity. Bio-gas-fired plant output rose ten-fold over the last decade to 1,600 MW. German Bio-gas Association members own 6,800 methanization plants.
According to the German Bio-mass Research Centre, bio-gas has an annual potential of 12 MTOE (Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent). German annual natural gas consumption is 77 MTOE.
According to the Institute of Applied Ecology, a pan-European bio-gas surge could eliminate the need for Russian gas imports by 2020, thereby saving the EU $40 billion a year.
Ambitious renewable energy schemes flourish in the countryside. Scores of rural municipalities are committed to going 100% renewable. The rural-dominated German Association of Towns and Municipalities supports 100% renewable.
The rural Lander of Schleswig-Holstein boasts 2,700 wind turbines; 1 per 1,000 citizens. Half the electricity consumed in Schleswig-Holstein is from renewables. Schleswig-Holsteiners plan to be 100% renewable by 2020.
Rural politicians extol renewable energy as a local jobs creation program and as a way to keep money circulating in local economies. Renewable energy’s “rural turnover” in Germany in 2010 was $14 billion. Rural politicians dream of freeing their people from the clutches of the Big Four power utilities.
The Big Four utilities (E.ON, RWE, EnBW, and Vattenfall) have done little to promote renewables. They belatedly embraced renewables and own only 4% of renewable capacity. They are vilified by Greens as enemies of the Energy Revolution.
Most investment in renewables comes from small utilities, rural municipalities, rural landowners, farmers’ co-ops, governments, and government banks such as KfW.
In 2010 Germany’s 375,000 farmers invested $8 billion into their operations. 70% of this went to renewable energy projects.
Germany’s third largest bank, KfW (Reconstruction Credit Institute), was created by Anglo-American occupation forces after WWII. KfW is owned 80% by the Federal Government and 20% by Lander governments. KfW has no retail branches; it deals exclusively with established businesses.
KfW’s motto is “We Promote Germany.”
“Sustainability” is a key facet of KfW’s national and international mission.
In 2011, KfW financed $90 billion worth of projects. One-third of these funds went to “climate and environmental protection.” In 2010 KfW funded $35 billion worth of “climate and environment” projects.
According to the Heinrich Boll Foundation:
“The Deutsche Ausgleichsbank (DtA), a public-private bank that merged with KfW in 2003, debt financed roughly 90% of all German wind projects…”
(By 2003 German wind capacity was 14,603 MW.)
In 2009 KfW boasted of financing 54% of German wind power (and 43% of all German renewable energy projects).
To accommodate renewable electricity’s intermittency, governments and heavy industry pour money into research related to mega-batteries, smart meters, and flexible grids.
Heavy industry favours renewable mega-projects like the Desertec Initiative and North Sea Offshore. Such projects lack the mass support base enjoyed by the competing strategy of small projects affixed to private land.
Offshore wind’s future is clouded. Long-term bond restrictions newly decreed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision will make financing offshore wind difficult. Offshore wind projects need long-term bonds. Offshore turbines remain an untested and arguably non-durable technology.
German offshore wind capacity stands at 520 MW with 900 MW under construction. (Gleanings from company press releases provide insights into the inordinate expense of offshore wind: three recently announced projects with a combined capacity of 178 MW had a combined estimated construction cost of $6 billion – over ten times more expensive than coal power.)
Germany’s Energy Revolution is part of a ranging state/corporate strategy involving: recycling, retrofitting buildings, organic foods, green consumer goods, etc. Unifying motives are: reduce imports, increase exports.
Some notable nodules within the eco-industrial complex are:
- German Solar Industry Association – an intermediary between Germany’s 800 solar businesses and the Federal Government. The Association was established in 2006 as an alliance of four predecessor solar alliances, the oldest dating to 1979.
- German Energy Agency (DENA, est. 2000) – 50% owned by the Federal Government and 50% owned by a syndicate representing: KfW, Allianz SE, Deutsche Bank, and DZ Bank. DENA uses its $30 million annual budget to run an expertise clearing house for several hundred engineering and financial firms involved in renewable energy.
- German Advisory Council on the Environment – an influential non-partisan state-funded think tank advocating a 100% renewables Germany.
- Econsence – doubles as the German chapter of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Econsense’s 33 members include: Deutsche Bank, E.ON, Nordbank, Munich Re, Flagsol, Siemens, RWE, and ABB. Econsense was founded in 2000 by the German Federation of Industry “to pool corporate activities on sustainability topics such as climate protection” and “actively shape the political and social discourse.”
- Transatlantic Climate Bridge – established in 2008 by the German Foreign Affairs Ministry to promote climate activism within all levels of Canadian and American governance.
Germany’s electrical transformation is part of a social counter-revolution. On one side, wealthy property owners install solar panels and wind turbines. Their electricity bills decline and they pocket tidy profits from the surplus power they feed into the grid. On the other side, average German households’ electricity bills have doubled over the last decade. In 2011 electricity prices rose 10% and 600,000 German households had their power cut off for non-payment. 15% of Germans live in “fuel poverty.”
Similar dynamics characterize Germany’s $4 trillion multi-year program to retrofit buildings with “climate-friendly” energy-saving technology. Much of this mandated expenditure will be done on rented dwellings. Landlords may re-coup all expenses from their tenants.
Not only are average German households put out by the Energy Revolution, certain industrial sectors are deeply dissatisfied.
To begin with, renewables were fraudulently advertised. Wind turbines were said to deliver electricity equal to, on average, 30% of their stated “capacity.” However, a recent ten-year German study concluded wind turbines produce, on average, 16% of capacity. Even at their name-plate capacity, wind turbines are far more expensive to build than are coal plants on a cost-per-MW basis. Worse, the inherent intermittency of wind (and solar) power render them incapable of meeting industry needs.
One-fifth of German industry has announced plans to shift production abroad. Among their chief complaints are: electricity costs, carbon permit costs, and disruptions of electricity provision. Steel, aluminum, cement, plastics, and chemical industries are impacted.
Industrial electricity prices in the EU average $180 per MW-hour. In Germany they average $196, and they are due to rise 20% before 2020. Access to cheap reliable electricity was an advantage German industry had over its neighbors; this is gone. Germany was a power exporter; now it is a power importer.
The introduction of renewable electricity to the grid has caused split-second power outages – annoyances to residential power customers but traumas for automated metallurgical plant managers.
Some of GEA’s zinc operations and Aurubis’s copper operations are moving to Asia and South America. Norsk Hydro’s aluminum plant has shut down two production lines. Electricity is 50% of Norsk’s production costs.
Steel giant Thyssen Krupp (TK) expects to shed 5,000 German jobs due to high electricity prices. TK’s electricity bills rose 30% since 2000. TK sold a 450-employee stainless steel mill to a Finnish competitor after the mill’s electricity bill eclipsed 20% of production costs. TK blamed this sale on Berlin’s “irresponsible energy policy.”
Enviro-skeptics decry “de-industrialization” in apocalyptic terms as though it were national suicide. What eco-fascists have in mind is not de-industrialization back to the Middle Ages but rather a measured industrial downsizing. If 20% of German industry packed up and moved out, the German landed estate would profit. Collapsing labour prices would benefit farmers, the hospitality-tourist sector, and employers of domestic help. Workers would still spend the same amount on rent and food – it is all they will be able to afford. As well, a measured downsizing will diminish the political clout of industry and industrial unions, thereby tightening the landed estate’s lock on state policy processes.
Thus the German state steers between two ditches: a) abandoning basic electricity provision; and b) forsaking the Energy Revolution’s autarkist and aristocratic aims. The solution is to shovel in more German coal.
In August 2012 RWE fired up a 2200 MW coal plant in Cologne, one of 25 coal-fired plants being built across Germany. As a sop to environmentalists, these new coal plants will emit 12% less CO2 than older models due to improved fuel efficiency. None are equipped for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
German coal consumption rose 5% since the 2011 Fukushima decision. RWE’s coal use is up 20%. RWE and E.ON shun natural gas as being too costly. Deutsche Bank predicts 6,500 MW of German gas power generation will be shuttered by 2015.
Coal’s renaissance is attributed to: a) the nuclear phase out; b) declining coal prices, and; c) collapsing “carbon permit” prices. The latter factor, often deemed the most important, was caused by a glut of permits. EU permit prices fell 43% over the last year to $10 per tonne. European coal plants had profits of $20 per MW-hour in 2012, up from $12 in 2011. Gas plants barely broke even. This occurred despite gas plants needing only half the carbon permits coal plants are required to buy.
In September 2012 a Union Bank of Switzerland spokesman quipped:
“The build-out (of coal plants) has nothing to do with low carbon prices. All these projects were already decided and kicked off several years ago.”
This betrays the existence of a pro-coal strategy planned well in advance of Fukushima and in flagrant disregard of any coherent Climate Change policy.
Of course, not all Germans welcome the coal renaissance.
German environmentalism’s antipathy to coal dates to the 1970s when mysterious reports from Bavaria blamed waldsterben (forest death) on Acid Rain from coal plants. By 1984 99% of Germans knew of Acid Rain and 75% considered it a crisis. Much of the anxiety was directed toward East European coal plants unequipped with the latest desulphurization technology. By the early 1990s the Acid Rain hoax was winding down – and it was a hoax: a comprehensive study conducted by Finland’s forest ministry found no decline in European forests between 1971 and 1990.
Acid Rain dissipated but anti-coal sentiment lingered mainly because coal is the chief rival to renewable power. 95% of Germans pick “renewables” as their favourite electricity source; 3% pick coal.
In 2009 enviro-activists blocked a CCS pilot project designed to dispose of coal emissions. More recently, eco-activists, supported by the SPD-Green government of Schleswig-Holstein, blocked a $3.2 billion coal plant.
Such protestations against coal are either half-hearted posturing or are rooted in the enviro-movement’s margins. The ruling consensus is that the national interest is best served by an electricity system relying primarily on German coal and secondarily on German-built renewables.
Q: How will this combat Global Warming?
A: Global what!?!
A Brief History of the War on American Coal-Fired Electricity
Coal is the USA’s most abundant fuel. The USA possesses the world’s largest coal deposits. Coal is a cornerstone of the US economy. Coal is a major American export. The American coal industry has 90,000 direct employees and ten times as many indirect ones. Until 2009 coal-fired power plants generated most of America’s electricity. Suppressing American coal means suppressing America.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) the US has “demonstrated” coal reserves of 440 billion tonnes. The National Academy of Science guestimates US coal reserves at 1,500 billion tonnes. Other estimates run as high as 4,000 billion tonnes.
US coal production averages 1 billion tonnes per year.
America’s remaining 580 coal-fired power plants house 1,400 generators. 73% of these plants are over 30 years old. They are subjected to a merciless enviro-regulatory and enviro-activist assault. The construction of new coal-fired plants is effectively becoming criminalized.
This historical sketch emphasises the War on Coal’s air pollution campaign, which targets coal-fired electrical generation. There is a parallel ground campaign targeting coal mining.
Environmentalist jeremiads about coal mines scarring landscapes and scaring wildlife betray a politically motivated aesthetic paradigm. Mother Nature creates craters, carves canyons, and readily dislocates and dispatches biota. Despite its romantic irrationality, the coal warriors’ ground campaign has succeeded in placing valuable coal deposits off limits, hobbling coal mining operations and mandating expensive and unnecessary land reclamations.
The first offensive against coal-fired power ran from 1978 to the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. During this offensive, while mention was made of Global Warming, soot pollution, etc, the cause celebre was Acid Rain.
While enviro-sceptics dub Acid Rain “the Global Warming of the 1980s,” in fact Global Warming and Acid Rain are both 19th century hypotheses re-discovered and hyped in the late 1970s.
The New York Times, in the late 1970s, began accusing mid-western coal-fired power plants of raining acid upon precious New England forests.
The poster child of acid-ruined forests was a wretched stand of spruce on Camel Hump Mountain, Vermont. ABC Television ran a lengthy hysterical national news piece about Camel Hump. (This news piece blamed Acid Rain for the premature deaths of 50,000 American citizens per year.) Journalists following up the ABC story were surprised to find this tragic stand of spruce engulfed by a thriving forest. Further analysis revealed the celebrity spruces to have been irreparably damaged by a rare localized drought.
America’s Acid Rain crusade differed slightly from Europe’s by its emphasis on alleged damage to lakes, especially lakes in New York’s Adirondacks. In 1980 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences issued alarming proclamations about dramatic increases in the number of acidified lakes and the degree of these lakes’ acidity. The EPA arbitrarily deemed pH levels below 5 as aberrant; ignoring glacial evidence of natural pH levels as low as 4.2.
(Acidity is measured on a 14-point power of Hydrogen – “pH” – scale. The lower the pH, the higher is the acidity. Note: “Acid Rain” is a misnomer as dissolved CO2 renders all rain acidic. Also note: Apple juice is 16 times more acidic than the worst Acid Rain.)
Acid Rain alarmists initially focussed on anthropogenic nitric and sulphuric acidity but soon dropped nitric acidity after it became obvious that rain-borne nitrogen is readily lapped up by plants. While sulphur is also a vital plant nutrient, there can be surplus sulphur dioxide (SO2) in rain, and this does trickle through watersheds into lakes.
In 1980 President Carter endorsed a report from his Council on Environmental Quality christening Acid Rain a grave crisis. In the same year, the EPA launched its National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP) with a $10 million budget. NAPAP morphed into a ten-year $550 million project. NAPAP endures as the most exhaustive scientific analysis of Acid Rain.
A 1984 NAPAP report identified a meagre 630 acidic lakes whose combined surface equalled 0.02% of total American lake surface area. Most acidic lakes were in Florida, an area unaffected by coal emissions.
A 1987 NAPAP report doubted any connection between coal emissions and Acid Rain damage. This set off an enviro-tempest culminating in the firing of NAPAP’s Director. His replacement was ordered to rewrite the report.
NAPAP’s final report (1990) concluded:
- Acid Rain does not harm human health.
- Acid Rain benefits agriculture. (Several European and North American studies likewise concluded sulphur-loaded rain improves crop yield and protein content).
- Acid Rain has not harmed forests. The at-risk trees – high altitude East Coast spruces – represent less than 1% of North American forest cover, and even here Acid Rain damage is dubious. Between 1952 and 1987, forests of the US Northeast grew by 78%.
- Four percent of US lakes were acidic. One quarter of these lakes were naturally acidic. The rest had been “somewhat influenced” by human activity. All acidic lakes could be quickly de-acidified by sprinkling lime into them. The cost of a national liming program would be $750,000.
A lake’s acidity is determined by the bedrock beneath, and human land-use of a lake’s environs. Run-off from surrounding land contributes 90% of lake water. Precipitation onto a lake contributes 10%. If rocks and flora around a lake are alkaline, then the lake will have low acidity and abundant aquatic life.
Fossils prove Adirondack lakes were historically acidic due to run-off through peat and pine and due to the bedrock’s low limestone content. Indians knew Adirondack lakes were fish poor. Settlers tried and failed to stock these lakes with fish. Then 19th century lumbering and slash-and-burn agriculture covered watersheds with ash. Run-off through this alkaline surface reduced lake acidity and fish thrived. 20th century conservation programs rejuvenated the forests and re-acidified the lakes.
The release of NAPAP’s final report was delayed until after the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Politicians did not want to disturb the delicate consensus they had assembled around SO2 emission cuts. Senators skimmed the NAPAP report for an hour. The House of Representatives never looked at it at all. The Clean Air Act Amendments mandated 10 million tonnes per annum of SO2 emission cuts by 2000 at a projected cost to industry of $5 billion.
SO2 emission reductions were achieved by power companies’ installing expensive “scrubbers” and other technologies to capture sulphur from coal. Greater reductions were achieved by switching to low-sulphur lignite coals. This unintended consequence caused a boom in lignite mining, particularly in Wyoming, which had not been a major coal producer. Now Wyoming’s lignite mines account for 40% of US coal production. Seventy-five coal trains, each 130 cars long, leave Wyoming’s Powder River Basin every day. Powder River coal fuels a fifth of US electricity.
SO2 emission reduction targets were achieved ahead of schedule, but environmentalists were flummoxed because coal-fired electrical generation had not been curtailed – albeit it was made less efficient and more expensive.
After a mid-1990s lull, a second offensive against coal-fired power was mounted, this time framed mainly as a struggle against coal’s CO2 emissions and their purported exacerbation of Global Warming.
As for Global Warming science:
- Earth’s surface temperature and Earth’s atmospheric CO2 concentrations have varied over the ages with little correlation betwixt the two. There is no compelling empirical evidence supporting the proposition that increasing CO2 levels causes warming.
- As airborne CO2 is essential for plant life, rising CO2 levels are preferable to declining levels.
- Over the eons Earth has at times been much warmer and much colder than at present. Warm times are periods of abundance. Cold times are hard times. Warming is a blessing.
- There has been no appreciable Global Warming since 1998 despite rising CO2 levels and in diametric contradiction of predictions made by leading Global Warming advocates.
While Global Warmers initially targeted all hydrocarbon fuels, primarily petroleum, by the mid-1980s their focus settled on coal. In the 1990s natural gas firms (BP, Shell, Enron, et al.) boarded the Global Warming bandwagon to advertise their wares as a coal substitute. Natural gas emits half the CO2 per unit of electricity than does coal; hence, natural gas lobbyists argued their product was “climate-friendly.”
A narrative has emerged wherein natural gas’s surpassing of coal as America’s premier electricity-generating fuel resulted from shale gas undercutting coal in a fair market contest. This is propaganda.
Here are some dates and facts tracing the arc of gas-fired electricity’s rise:
In the first decade of the 21st century 81% of the generating capacity added to America’s electrical infrastructure consisted of natural-gas-fired power plants. Nearly all these plants were built pre-2008. In fact, most of America’s natural-gas-fired fleet entered service between 1998 and 2003.
Commercial power plants are not impulse purchases; years pass between their conception and construction. The 1998-2003 flurry of gas plant construction resulted from decisions made 1996-99ish. The starting gunshot for the “dash for gas” was Clinton’s 1996 re-election.
(On September 18, 1996 Clinton proved his green bona fides by decreeing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, thereby enclosing 1.9 million acres of Utah. The US Geological Survey estimates this area holds 30 billion tonnes of minable coal. Clinton’s declaration nixed Andelex Coal’s shovel-ready designs on a multi-billion tonne deposit of high-volatile, low-sulphur coal. This mine would have employed 1,000 Utahans. Congress, supported by Utah Democrats, had blocked efforts to turn this area into a park. Clinton made his decree from the safety of Arizona after giving Utah’s Governor 24 hours’ notice. Utahans wore black arm bands after the declaration, and in November they voted Republican by a 21% margin. Clinton, with enviro-movement support, waltzed back into the White House.)
Shale gas, accessed through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, accounted for a tiny portion of US gas production in 1990. This portion rose to 23% by 2010.
Between 1990 and 2010, total US gas production grew from 18 trillion to 22.5 trillion cubic feet, the main jump occurring post-2005.
A February 2008 New York Times article (Utilities Turn from Coal to Gas) noted utilities were switching to natural gas because environmentalists were stymieing coal plant construction. This article added that major banks were discouraging investment in coal. In early 2009 the Economist (The Writing on the Wall) confirmed US utilities were caving to political pressure and abandoning coal.
US natural gas prices began collapsing in late 2008. The price of 1,000 cubic feet of gas fell from $13 in June 2008 to $3 in July 2009.
In 2009 coal’s share of US electrical generation fell below 50%.
In 2010 coal generated 45% of electricity, natural gas 24%, nuclear 20%, renewables 10%, and oil 1%.
By 2011 coal held a 41% market share.
By April 2012 American electricity came 32% from natural gas and 32% from coal.
Natural gas-fired plants’ combined capacity is now 390,000 MW. Coal’s combined capacity is 300,000 MW. (America’s total generating capacity is 1,050,000 MW.)
Thus the dash for gas was over before the shale gas revolution began. The shale gas revolution would not have been possible if the gas-fired plants had not been pre-built and waiting to receive the shale gas. Most importantly, the “market triumph of gas” narrative ignores the War on Coal despite the fact that the critical years of gas’s ascendancy (2007-2012) also mark the climax of the anti-coal crusade.
Circa 2001 the EPA redoubled efforts to suppress coal-fired power mainly by emphasizing coal’s alleged “toxic,” primarily mercury, emissions.
The EPA’s 2004 proposed mercury emission standards for coal-fired plants engendered much litigation and political wrangling. Also in 2004 the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) launched a coordinated blitz about mercury pollution.
In 2005 the EPA sought to extend Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rules to mercury and other metal emissions from all large boilers and furnaces.
As for the toxicology of mercury from coal:
- Mercury is a ubiquitous natural element. Ketchup and barbeque sauces contain 50 times the “environmentally safe” concentrations of mercury.
- Health risks arise when methylmercury, synthesized by aquatic bacteria, accumulates in fish and whales. Humans eating inordinate amounts of such animals risk mercury poisoning (hydrargyria). This danger is mitigated by the pervasive presence of the methylmercury blocker selenium in fish. Seychelles Islanders eat fish twice a day for their entire lives without succumbing to hydrargyria.
- Epidemics of mercury pollution appear in computer simulations concocted by enviro-scientists but not in public health records. Hospitals are not crammed with hydrargyria sufferers.
- Faroe Islanders display detectable, yet contentious, evidence of mercury poisoning. (The Faroe Islands, situated between Iceland and Scotland, are home to 40,000 people.) Whale is a Faroe Islander staple. Whales are low in selenium, high in methylmercury. Faroe Islanders have mercury concentrations 350 times higher than average Americans. International officials have asked them to stop eating whales, but the Faroese do not think this is necessary.
- The international precautionary level for mercury in humans, 58 parts per billion (ppb), comes from the Faroe Islands studies. If those studies are properly adjusted for the presence of other chemicals, the level would be 71 ppb.
- A 1999 Centre for Disease Control study sampled 1,709 US women of childbearing age. All had mercury levels in the 1 to 21 ppb range; none were symptomatic.
- The EPA arbitrary arrived at its “reference dose” by dividing the Faroe Islands study level by 10, thus yielding an uber-precautionary level of 5.8 ppb.
- Alarms were sounded after a 2008 study of Floridians revealed mercury concentrations as high as 25 ppb. However, a study of 550-year-old mummies from Alaska revealed concentrations 5 times that level. Similarly, a study of tuna conducted between 1972 and 1998 showed declining mercury levels.
- The EPA’s main worry is for pregnant women who subsist on freshwater fish – a mythical social cohort. After investigating the matter for a quarter century, the EPA has yet to come up with a single case of a baby being developmentally disabled by mercury pollution.
- American coal-fired power plants are responsible for 3% of the mercury floating in American skies. Volcanoes, subsea vents, and geysers contribute almost all environmental mercury. Forest fires are another source of environmental mercury as trees extract mercury from the subsoil and release it during combustion.
Mercury-scare stats, and other enviro-toxic tales, are often variations of the “no threshold fallacy.” By this illogic: If a substance has toxic potential, then large emissions of this substance, even in concentrations of a few parts per billion, must be surreptitiously poisoning people. In reality, such dilute concentrations do not harm anyone. A block of ice crashing onto a person’s head can be lethal, but snowflakes do not fracture thousands of skulls every year.
Between January 2001 and December 2007, eighty-eight proposed coal-fired power plants were thwarted by non-governmental and/or governmental enviro-activism.
In 2007 the war on coal-fired power ramped up. The tenor of the times can be gauged from the writings of James Hanson (a leading climate alarmist, and NASA official, for 30 years) who in 2007 declared:
“If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains – no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria…”
When people complained his Holocaust analogy was over-the-top, Hanson penned more articles denouncing coal plants as “factories of death.” In The Guardian he wrote, “Coal is the greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet.” (He was arrested at an anti-coal protest in 2010.)
Circa 2007 Texas-based utility TXU Corp. was having none of the War on Coal. They planned 11 more coal-fired plants in Texas plus additional ones in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
An armada of enviro-groups led by Environmental Defense (ED) assailed TXU. ED complained: “TXU and Texas are sprinting full speed back to the 1950s.”
Environmentalists e-mailed TXU officials en masse. Rainforest Action Network sent letters to 54 financial institutions warning them that if they lent money to TXU they would be boycotted and picketed.
In late 2007 three investment firms – Texas Pacific Group (TPG), Goldman Sachs, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts – purchased TXU for a record $45 billion. TPG Chair David Bonderman is a director of WWF, Grand Canyon Trust, and Wilderness Society. (Bonderman’s rise may be attributable to his connections to the eco-billionaire Bass family.)
To stage the TXU takeover Bonderman tasked former EPA Administrator William Reilly to liaise with elite environmentalists. These secret talks were “unusual” and a “watershed in American history.” Environmentalists were assured the takeover would result in many cancelled coal plants.
The takeover budget consisted of $8 billion in equity (cash) and $37 billion in bonds to be payable by the soon-to-be-conquered TXU. The cash came from clients of the three investment firms – mainly pension funds and pools of small passive investors.
After the takeover TXU immediately shelved plans for 8 of its 11 proposed coal plants in Texas and its proposed coal plants in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
TXU, renamed Energy Future Holdings (EFH), now groans under the debt borne of the takeover and has had to increase its electricity prices. EHF owns a meagre 8,000 MW of coal-fired power but boasts of being one of America’s largest purchasers of wind power.
In 2010 the pension funds et al. that ponied up the $8 billion in cash absorbed a $5 billion write-down, confirming suspicions that TXU shares were overpriced.
The TXU takeover was not a rational business deal, it was political activism aimed at removing a potent and intransigent pro-coal player from the US electrical industry.
In 2008 the Alliance for Climate Protection (Al Gore, Chair) undertook two anti-coal projects: a) Repower America (to transforms America’s energy infrastructure), and b) the WE Campaign (a push for aggressive reductions in CO2 emissions). The latter, a three-year $300 million blitz, paid celebrity “opinion leaders” to appear in television and magazine ads. WE Campaign was one of the largest public advocacy operations in US history.
Also in 2008 Gore implored young Americans to use civil disobedience to block coal plant construction, and he launched the Reality Coalition with a New York Times op-ed demanding a ban on constructing any coal plants unequipped with 100% Carbon Capture and Storage technology.
In a 2008 San Francisco Chronicle interview, presidential candidate Barrack Obama praised the proposed federal CO2 Cap and Trade legislation, adding:
“…if a person wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, its just that it (Cap and Trade) will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Obama promptly repeated the phrase about the virtue of bankrupting coal-fired power plants.
(Cap and Trade passed the House in 2009 but was abandoned by Senate Democrats in 2010 for lack of the required 60 votes. This was a blow to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D, Nevada) whose mantra is: “Coal makes us sick.”)
In the 100 days following Obama’s January 20, 2009 inauguration, nine proposed coal-fired power projects were cancelled. These nine plants would have generated 6,650 MW – enough to supply five million homes. Among the thwarted was a 1,500 MW plant scheduled for a Navaho reserve.
Immediately after Obama’s inauguration, the EPA rolled out an unprecedented wave of anti-coal regulations. On January 24, 2009 the EPA filed a novel air quality objection to South Dakota’s proposed $1.3 billion 580 MW Big Stone II coal plant. (The plant was cancelled months later.) On April 17, 2009 EPA designated CO2 a danger to public health.
During Obama’s first 100 days, enviro-supremo Robert Kennedy Jr. gave a speech in Washington, DC wherein he denounced coal companies as “criminal enterprises” whose executives “should be in jail…for all eternity.”
Obama’s choice for Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, called coal his “worst nightmare.”
The war on coal-fired power revolves around twin loci: the EPA and Sierra Club. Their twin objectives are closing existing coal-fired plants and thwarting proposed ones.
While the EPA is the federal government’s vanguard coal warrior, dozens of federal branches and departments have been enlisted such as the US Supreme Court, Department of the Interior, and the Export Import Bank.
In a 5-4 ruling in 2007 (Massachusetts vs. EPA),the US Supreme Court okayed the EPA’s regulation of CO2. (Congressional efforts to overturn Massachusetts vs. EPA came in the form ofthe Energy Tax Prevention Act, which passed the House on April 2011 by a 255 to 172 vote. This bill, which seeks to strip the EPA of its CO2 regulatory powers, languishes in the Senate.)
To suppress Appalachian coal mining, the Department of the Interior prohibits “valley fills” within 100 feet of any stream. (When compact ground “overburden” is removed from above a mineral deposit, the overburden expands, making it impossible to stuff back into the hole from whence it came.) In coal-rich Appalachia, surplus overburden is dumped in valley fills, thereby providing welcome level land. In its ongoing litigation regarding this matter, the Department of the Interior is aided by NRDC lawyers.
The US Export Import Bank refused a loan guarantee for a $600 million sale of heavy machinery manufactured by Bucyrus Ltd (Wisconsin) because the machinery was destined for an overseas coal-fired plant.
State governments have also heard the call. For instance, in 2008 then Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius, a Democratic Party heroine, blocked two coal plants because their emissions would allegedly aggravate Global Warming and negatively impact local farmers. The power company salvaged one plant by converting the other into a wind farm.
Sierra Club (SC) leads a dozen national environmental groups in the War on Coal. These groups in turn fund and guide hundreds of local battles against coal-fired plants. SC has recruited 234,766 local activists into a nation-wide matrix of “concerned citizens.” Local cells provide the legal standing needed to oppose specific coal projects in the courts.
The EPA’s governmental allies and the SC’s non-governmental auxiliary are fully integrated. The EPA dishes out $400 million a year to enviro-advocacy groups and other onside organizations like American Lung Association affiliates. The latter dutifully came forward with studies accusing coal emissions of killing 20,000 Americans a year. Many EPA-funded enviro-advocacy groups are coal warriors; some engage in civil disobedience.
The EPA pays enviro-groups to sue the EPA. The EPA then loses or settles these lawsuits in ways that compel the EPA to expand its enforcement powers. Twelve elite enviro-groups have sued the EPA 3,000 times. In 2008 NRDC (recipients of $6.5 million in EPA grants since 2000) sued the EPA to compel the agency to enforce greenhouse gas performance standards. In 2011 the EPA issued regulations compelling coal plants to install multi-billion-dollar haze reduction equipment in order to settle a lawsuit launched by the Environmental Defence Fund – a group that has received $3 million in EPA grants. Environmental Law Institute, a group receiving $10 million from the EPA since 2000, published a “Citizen’s Guide” on how to sue the EPA.
There is also a revolving door between personnel from the EPA and SC. Al Armendariz was forced from a top EPA position in April 2012 after a leaked video showed him bragging about randomly “crucifying” oil drillers. Weeks later, SC hired Armendariz as an anti-coal activist.
While the SC has long protested coal mining, their concerted attack on coal-fired electricity began with their 2002 launch of the National Coal Campaign. According to SC lore, this initiative was a response to secret meetings between VP Dick Cheney and coal execs whereat a ‘Coal Rush’ to build 150 coal-fired plants was plotted. National Coal Campaign, later re-branded Beyond Coal, is the largest campaign undertaken by the SC in its 125-year history. By 2010 Beyond Coal had an $18 million annual budget and a staff of 100.
Between 2002 and 2010, solar power industry bagman David Gelbaum divided donations of $200 million between the SC and the SC Foundation.
Obama’s first budget increased EPA funding by 36% to $10.3 billion. The EPA was granted carte blanche authority to go after coal and they used it.
In 2010, while introducing draconian coal mine water emission standards, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson waxed eloquent on the “biological integrity of streams.” Her main worry was salt pollution. Industry spokespeople contend Perrier water does not meet the new purity standards. Major mines have had permits cancelled for non-compliance with EPA water emission standards.
In 2010 the EPA mandated more stringent limits on SO2 emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. 43% of coal-fired plants do not have the desulphurization equipment needed to make them compliant.
In 2010 the EPA began pushing to re-classify coal ash a “hazardous” substance. This would end the benign practice of recycling ash into cement, bricks, etc. and would increase ash disposal costs 500%.
In 2011 billionaire philanthropist and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opining how “coal kills every day,” gave $50 million to Beyond Coal. (Unsurprisingly, New York State’s electricity mix is: natural gas 45%, coal 7%, with the rest coming from hydro, nuclear, etc.)
At a gala ceremony on December 21, 2011, the EPA unveiled their new 1,117 page MACT Utility rules and related Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). A 1,000-word press release used the word “toxic” 21 times. The main dread, again, is methylmercury accumulations in freshwater fish being eaten by pregnant women.
MATS and MACT Utility rules are aimed at the 1,100 oldest coal-fired generators. Equipment for capturing mercury and other metal emissions at these coal plants must be as effective as the equipment found at the top performing 12% of coal plants. Owners have four years to comply. These rules could force utilities to spend $100 billion retrofitting old plants. These rules will also increase plant operating costs. A likely result of MATS/MACT Utility will be the forced retirement of most of the coal-fired fleet.
An ongoing collateral struggle surrounds EPA ‘New Source’ policies. For years now, all New Sources of power must have state-of-the-art emissions abatement equipment. The EPA contends repairing old coal plants constitutes a New Source of power because repairs increase plant output and emissions. Such a designation could turn routine maintenance jobs into $100 million endeavours. One consequence of this regulatory battle is coal equipment not being properly maintained.
While SC advocates a complete shutdown of the coal industry, their interim mission is: “to retire 1/3 of the country’s dirty coal plants by 2020...”
Remember: One coal plant closure prevents 47 heart attacks!
SC’s website takes credit for the forced early retirement of 124 coal plants. An update came in a posting titled ‘Coming Clean’ (February 29, 2012) wherein SC Executive Director Michael Brune writes:
“…the Crawford coal-fired power plant in Chicago became the 100th to announce its retirement since the beginning of 2010…That doesn’t even count the proposed plants that have been scuttled since communities across the country started standing up and saying ‘no’ to coal. At last count the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign prevented 166 of those.”
This posting links to a data base detailing the blocking of 172 proposed coal projects (including a few coal-to-liquid and coal gasification plants).
These figures conform to the US Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Denied report of March 2011. Chamber researchers tallied American energy projects either currently stalled or recently killed by enviro-activism. They found 111 coal-fired power and coal-to-liquid plants fitting this description.
On the day of Brune’s posting, the retirements of nine coal-fired plants were announced. Seven of those plants were from GenOn Corp.’s fleet in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In May 2012 Edison International announced the closure of two coal-fired plants near Chicago. In June 2012 FirstEnergy Corp. announced the closure of seven coal-fired plants in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. (FirstEnergy must spend $975 million to make its remaining seven coal plants complaint with EPA standards.)
The EPA figures its MATS/MACT Utility rules will close 10,000 MW of coal-fired power. The EIA estimates 49,000 MW of coal-fired capacity will be retired by 2020. Industry claims MATS/MACT, combined with rules regarding coal ash and cooling water transport, will shutter 80,000 MW of coal-fired power.
The death knell for proposed coal plants rang on March 2012 when the EPA decreed new power plants may release no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MW-hour. US coal plants typically emit 1,768 pounds per CO2 MW-hour. (Natural gas power plants typically emit under 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MW-hour.) While dozens of proposed coal plants have already been approved, few are likely to proceed to completion. With the advent of the 1,000 pound rule, it is unlikely any more plants will be approved – unless Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) breakthroughs are in the offing.
CCS is commercially untenable. Installing CO2 capturing technology increases a coal-fired power plant’s construction costs by at least 50%. Storing CO2 from coal plants will require a vast pipeline network taking a generation to build. Pumping CO2 into the ground requires a phenomenal amount of energy. Mandating CCS is a de facto prohibition on coal-fired power.
America’s two largest electricity companies, Duke Energy and American Electric Power, are members of the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership – an international cabal hatched at the 1992 Rio Summit. Membership is restricted to the world’s largest electric utilities. The Partnership promotes green energy. A Duke exec currently chairs the Partnership’s board.
Duke Energy, America’s largest US electrical company, sells 58,000 MW to customers in the Carolinas, Florida, Ohio, and Kentucky. Duke’s electricity comes from coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, and hydro. In the face of unpredictable markets and potential government regulation of carbon, Duke’s bean-counters contend: “fuel diversity is the least cost option.”
Duke supports a Cap and Trade regime for CO2 emissions. Their website is replete with Climate Change propaganda and trophies of their cooperation with enviro-groups. Despite this, Duke faces protracted opposition from enviros opposed to Duke’s plans for an ultra-modern coal plant and a nuclear plant.
American Electric Power (AEP) generates 38,000 MW from 80 stations. This Ohio headquartered firm is active in the Virginias, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. 66% of AEP power comes from coal, but they are quickly building natural gas plants which now account for 22% of output. AEP has a nuclear plant and is a major purchaser of wind power. In 2011 AEP announced an accelerated phase-out of 25% of their coal-fired capacity.
AEP cancelled their $668 million CCS project. When AEP conceived of this project, they were betting on Cap and Trade passing the Senate. Had Cap and Trade passed, the project’s cost would have been offset by emission credits, i.e. the project would have been indirectly paid for by their less deep-pocketed competitors.
A more militant coal warrior is California’s Pacific Gas & Electric – a company with 5.1 million electricity customers and 4.3 million natural gas customers. Their electricity is from nuclear and renewable sources.
These are the kinds of companies Wall Street Journal editors had in mind when they penned a scathing indictment of the EPA’s MACT Utility regs (Lisa Jackson’s Power Play, December 22, 2011). Closing coal plants will cause electricity shortages. These companies are salivating at the prospect of raking in super-profits during this period of scarcity. None dare call it a cartel.
Six Supplemental Observations
The USA, Australia, and Canada possess half the world’s uranium and half the world’s coal. That we are monkeying around with wind and solar power is a travesty. The spectre haunting Europe is a North America dotted with an archipelago of 4,000 MW coal plants perched on the edges of vast coal fields and pumping out juice too cheap to meter. China, India, Turkey, and Vietnam are in the midst of a coal power boom because they understand the meaning of “neo-imperialist under-development” whereas for Yanks, Aussies, and Canucks such words are, not accidentally, taboo.
Climate Change and its joint venture, the War on Coal, dwell at the confluence of two grand social forces: environmentalism and the electricity industry. The international environmental movement is pressing for a wide-ranging social transformation of which energy policy is but one aspect. Electricity is but one aspect of energy.
Six electricity generating methods (coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydro, wind, and solar) account for 99% the current sold in the world’s multi-trillion dollar electricity market. Underlying each method lies a distinct industrial complex of resource extraction companies, equipment manufacturers, specialized engineering, banking, and shipping interests. These industrial complexes compete for market share. This competition exists independently of the environmental movement but is warped by the environmentalists’ preference for renewables.
Wind power is an historic boondoggle. EU countries spent $250 billion assembling and hooking-up 60,000 wind turbines with an advertised capacity of around 75,000 MW but an actual average output closer to 12,000 MW. South Africa and India are both currently building 4,000 MW coal-fired power plants for $4 billion each. Coal plants operate at 90% of capacity. The EU could have spent its wind budget on a coal-powered system capable of reliably delivering 225,000 MW - eighteen times what they are getting from their erratic wind farms!
Is the “shale gas revolution” the new Climate Change?
The natural gas industry has been a driving force inside the Climate Change campaign for almost 20 years. Gas industry lobbyists told lies about the atmosphere to denigrate coal and to win the government approvals and preferences they needed to build gas-fired power plants, gas storage facilities, pipelines, etc. Gas industry lobbyists now use controversial estimates of immense domestic shale gas deposits to advance national energy security arguments to win the preferences and permits they need to continue building the gas infrastructure. Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have produced much gas, but coterminous with the shale gas revolution has been a bigger liquid natural gas (LNG) revolution. In the future will gas-electric plants be supplied with costly, contentious domestic shale gas or with cheap, care-free LNG from Qatar?
Environmentalism must be placed in the context of the metropolitan-hinterland and land-capital dichotomies. The West’s dominant metropole is the EU’s core area. Ancillary metropoles are found in the US Northeast and in various narrow corridors: San Diego-Sacramento, Toronto-Montreal, Sydney-Melbourne, etc. Land in and around these metropoles is notoriously expensive. Preserving this value bubble means preventing migration into the hinterlands. This translates into creating evermore parkland and into policies lessening the metropoles’ dependence on hinterland resources such as recycling, locavorism, and renewable energy. Ask not what a policy can do for the public; ask what a policy can do for metropolitan landowners.
Finally a word about coal ecology:
Coal is a sedimentary rock comprised of fossilized plant remains. Usually dead plant matter is consumed by fire or microbial decomposition. However, in areas adjacent to stagnant waters plant matter often does not burn and is partially decomposed into mulch (peat). In slowly subsiding wetlands, peat builds up and is then buried. Millions of years of intense weight and heat pressure-cook peat into coal. No alchemy is at work here. No new elements are created or added. Coals, from the mushy brown lignites to the glassy black anthracites, are at the molecular level basically garden salads. The carbon, sulphur, and trace metals compounds emitted by coal furnaces are the same molecules emitted into the environment by the burning or decomposing of plants. Coal burning presents no more of an environmental hazard than does the drying up and blowing away of the golden leaves of autumn.
hese essays drew upon hundreds of articles, websites and reports some of which are listed in the text and other are listed below. If you wish more info on sources please contact me through the “contact” link on the main page.
Anderson, Jungjohann, and Weis; Harvesting Clean Energy from Ontario Farms; Pembina Institute and Heinrich Boll Stiftung; June 2011
Alex Trembath; Europe Betrays its Renewable Energy Intentions and Invests in Coal; oilprice.com (Breakthrough Institute) 10 July 2012
P. Gosselin; Germany Succeeds in Making Energy Unaffordable for 15% of its Population; http://notrickszone.com
Henning Krumrey; Wirtshaftwoche; German banks Banned from Financing Offshore Wind Farms; 12 May 2012
Frederike Schulz; Brown Coal makes a Comeback amid Protests; Deutsche Welle; 1 August 2012
Rakteem Katakey; Europe Burns Coal Faster Since 2006 – Boost for US; Bloomberg; 3 July 2012
Christopher Booker; Britain’s Only EU Hope Lies Hidden in Lisbon; Telegraph, 7 July 2012
Scott Stinson; Alleged Health Risks not the biggest threat to Ontario’s wind energy plans; National Post; 10 July 2012
Paula Simons; Blackouts Shine Lights on Flaws in Power Systems; Edmonton Journal; 12 July 2012
Weis, Thibault, Partington, Anderson, Gibson; High Cost of Cheap Power; Pembina Institute; June 2012
Joshua Miller; Federal Regs force coal plant closures now, higher rates later, critics warn; Fox news; 5 September 2012
Daniel Whitten; Clean Coal Debate Pits Al Gore’s Group against Obama, Peabody; Bloomberg; 4 February 2009
Matthew Wald; New Rules and Old Plants May Strain Summer Energy Supplies; New York Times; 11 August 2011
Ed Whitfield; There’s a War on America’s Biggest Energy Resource; Fox news; November 1, 2011
Stephanie Cohen; Coal at Crossroads; Wall Street Journal; 8 August 2008
The Writing on the Wall; Economist (editorial); 7 May 2009
Christopher Helman; TXU Buyout Looking More Like a Bust; Forbes; 7 September 2009
Steven Mufson and David Cho; Energy Firm Accepts $45 billion takeover; Washington Post; 26 February 2007
Jeremy Taylor and Peter Van Doren; President Obama’s Alleged “War on Coal”; Forbes 31 August 2012
James Dillinger; “Energy Independence” – A formula for Attacking Energy Production; Organizational Trends; January 2007
Fox News; Coal Industry warns proposed EPA rules could force fourth of power plants to close; 10 May 2012
Heather Scoffield; Ottawa to Unveil Weakened emissions rules for coal-fired power; Globe and Mail; 5 September 2012
Shawn McCarthy; Ottawa Backtracks on Coal Emissions; Globe and Mail; 5 January 2012
Bryan Walsh; ‘Coal Kills Every Day’: Michael Bloomberg Pledges $50 million to fight Coal Industry; Time; 21 July 2011
Tara Thean; Clean Coal Cancelled Thanks to Poor Policy; Time; 18 July 2011
Juliet Eilperin; Gore Launches Ambitious Advocacy Campaign on Climate; Washington Post; 31 March 2008
Dr. Robert Peltier; MACT Attack; Power Magazine; 1 July 2012
Lisa Jackson’s Power Play; Wall Street Journal (editorial); 22 December 2011
Amy Harder; Sierra Club Hires EPA Officials Felled by Crucify Comment; National Journal; 29 June 2012
Robert Hettinger; Summary of the Coal Resources of Kaiparowits Plateau and its Value; US Geological Service
Robert Gordon; EPA Doles-out Taxpayer Dollars to Environmental Activist Groups; The Foundry; 12 May 2011
Mathew Wald; Utilities Turn from coal to Gas; New York Times; 8 February 2008
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity; Coal Units Being Shut Down; 20 September 2012
Erik Shuster; Tracking New Coal Fired Plants; National Energy Technology Laboratory; 13 January 2012
Stephan Nicola; Merkel’s Green Shift Forces Germany to Burn More Coal; Bloomberg; 20 August 2012
Frank Dohmen; Rising Energy Prices Endanger German Industry; Spiegel Online International; 24 February 2012
Stephan Schultz; Germany Rethinks Path to Green Future; Spiegel Online; 29 August 2012
James Conca; Germany – Insane or Just Plain Stupid; Forbes; 31 August 2012
Kelvin Kemm; Germany’s New Renewable Energy Policy; www.CFACT.org 28 August 2012
Mathew Carr; Coal Era Beckons for Europe as Carbon Giveaway Finishes; Bloomberg; 21 September 2012
Christopher Booker; Germany’s Wind Power chaos should be a warning to the UK; Telegraph; 22 September 2012
Malte Lehming; The German Ecological-Industrial Complex; Wall Street Journal; 4 November 4 2010
John Merline; EPA Funds Green Groups to Sue the Agency to Expand; Investor’s Business Daily; 6 July 2011