Remember, oh, about a year ago when every day brought a new article about the coming Coal Boom? How times change.
A few pieces worth noting, just from the last few days:
- Mark Clayton covers the Coal Bust;
- Keith Johnson covers the latest blow to Big Coal, Missouri’s Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. canning a planned 660MW coal plant due to skyrocketing costs;
- Matthew Brown at AP covers the suspension of a federal loan program for coal-fired plants in rural communities;
- Greenwire covers a new lawsuit filed against the Bush administration (sub rqd) by North Carolina advocacy groups — they say the feds’ subsidies for clean coal are exacerbating the destruction wrought by mountaintop-removal mining, violating the National Environmental Policy and the Administrative Procedures acts.
There are a lot of threads, but they all come together into a web of Really Bad News for coal.
Coal’s being battered on two sides. On one side is cold, hard economics: coal plants just don’t pencil out any more, and with one source of financing after another expressing reservations or pulling out, the outlook looks grimmer and grimmer. In addition to skyrocketing (I need a new word that means skyrocketing) construction costs, there’s the cost of climate regulations, which is unknown but potentially enormous. Coal is just a terrible investment — something only an unaccountable government bureaucrat handing out subsidies could love.
On the other side are environmentalists. The Sierra Club gets the lion’s share of the credit for its spectacular, coordinated, nation-wide, tooth-and-nail fight against individual coal plants. But the anti-MTR groups are getting in on it too now, and I have a feeling that’s going to be one of the big stories of the next year. You just can’t call coal "clean" when it means ravaging Appalachia.
One thing to note as you read these stories — and it’s particularly clear in Clayton’s piece — is that just about the only people willing to defend coal are people who make money off the coal industry (and I count coal-state legislators in that group). Clayton gets quotes defending coal from Joe Lucas, executive director of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, and Richard Storm, CEO of Storm Technologies, "an Albemarle, N.C., company that specializes in optimizing coal-fired power plants." No independent economic or energy analysts show up to claim we “have to” keep building coal plants.
Clean or cheap. Never both.