The New Republic has a fine, fine editorial about coal today. It calls into question whether spending up to $40 billion on the ten-years-hence promise of carbon sequestration in order to save the coal industry from obsolescence is the best investment we could make to fight global warming.

The weak link in the argument is here:

Nor is it clear that sequestration will be economical: One GAO analysis predicts that electricity from carbon- capturing plants will cost up to 78 percent more than electricity from conventional coal plants. By the time the technology becomes viable–if it ever becomes viable–solar and wind power could well be cost-competitive alternatives.

Coal boosters put everything on that "could well be." They’ll tell as that we shouldn’t take the chance — we know coal is cheap, but we don’t know if renewables ever will be.

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We need stronger arguments about what is and isn’t economical. One would be to show that coal with sequestration will produce more expensive electricity than renewables in 10 years. That’s almost certainly true, IMO, but we need hard numbers.

Another would be to show that comparisons of electricity costs are ridden with assumptions, guesses, and biases, and that the choice of electricity sources is ultimately political, not economic. I’m going to have a crack at this latter one tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get around the former some time. That would mean overcoming my allergy toward spreadsheets.