Utilities are converting coal-burning power plants to biomass and decommissioning coal plants. All with good reason, unless you’re paid to boost “clean coal.”
If “clean coal” is the hot prospect that President Barack Obama, a majority of Congress and almost all Republican presidential candidates proclaim it to be (note that the coal lobby contributes millions to politicians every election cycle), how come power companies and utilities around the country are converting coal-burning power plants to biomass and decommissioning coal plants in favor of building new power plants that will run on natural gas, wind or solar? At least 40 such efforts are currently underway in 22 states and the District of Columbia. At the same time, not a single non-coal U.S. power plant is converting to coal.
These private sector entities are switching out of coal primarily to biomass, principally in the form of wood left over from timber operations. The wood they will burn would otherwise go to waste. None of the projects would require that active forests be cut down to provide fuel.
The reason for the switch from dirty, polluting coal to less environmentally harmful feedstocks is simple: A reduction in nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and an assortment of particulate emissions that pollute the air and make people sick. While conversions will not eliminate pollution, most scientists who have studied this believe that they will cut it down significantly. Moreover, power plant conversions and replacements create new jobs in power plants, forestry, the natural gas industry and trucking, and generate new taxes for state and local governments
This is an example that Republican presidential hopefuls, especially, should love — the “virtuous, do-no-wrong private sector” innovating on its own without government intervention or financial help and with benefits for all. Only they don’t, because it means that the false idol that they are paid so handsomely to promote — clean coal — is being called out and found lacking by the very people who know coal best: the power plants that burn it.
The people who are pushing conversions are hard-nosed businessmen and -women with a bottom-line orientation and attentiveness to their shareholders, Wall Street analysts and rating agencies. The coal devotees are mine owners and their advocates on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures whose support the coal industry buys with their campaign contributions and many other perks.
Some members of Congress are actually fighting against power plant conversions and replacements. Another example of your representatives working hard in pursuit of their true interests: (1) getting re-elected, and (2) positioning themselves for high-paying lobbying jobs when they eventually leave public office.
Email Richard Hermann care of Messenger Post Media at firstname.lastname@example.org.