Clarifying The Energy Debate

Posted on June 28, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

With the manner in which mainstream reporters have been covering the renewable energy industry, most of us can be forgiven in thinking that renewable energy is much more expensive to produce and operate than traditional carbon energy.  However, this is far from the truth.

The first myth is that renewable energy (and specifically wind) is more expensive to produce than coal.  But according to the Energy Information Administration, the total cost of generating coal power is between 4.8-5.5 cents /KWh.  Utility scale wind is already being produced at between 4.0-6.0 cents / KWh (and next gen technology is aiming to decrease that by one-third).

The second myth is that the renewable energy industry will only survive with continued government subsidies and support.  But the fact is that of all energy sources in the country, coal continues to be the largest recipient of government subsidies (by far).  Electricity production subsidies per unit of production (dollars per megawatt hour, MWh) vary by fuel.  In 2009, electricity from refined coal received $29.81 per MWh, solar received $24.34 /MWh, and wind received $23.37 /MWh.

*It is important to note that not all coal consumed in the USA is “refined coal”.  However, there is a general trend towards phasing out unrefined coal, due to its inherent inefficiency.  Refining coal (through the K-Fuel process) uses heat and pressure to remove approximately 30 percent of the moisture from raw, low-rank coal and raises its thermal content to approximately 11,000 Btu per pound – making it more efficient to burn.  But according to The Union of Concerned Scientists, “refining coal is a relatively simple process where coal is washed with a water or chemical bath to remove some impurities.  Refining coal does not decrease the coal’s CO2 emission upon being burned, but simply decreases its sulfur and mercury output.”  So while refined coal is cleaner than unrefined coal, it is still more polluting (by far) and MORE heavily subsidized than either wind or solar.

The domestic coal and oil industries receive roughly $70 billion annually in the form of government subsidies.  This is compared to the $26 billion that the renewable energy industry and energy efficiency received in 2009.

It is important to understand that entrenched carbon interests are trying to cloud (literally) the energy debate.

It is NOT cheaper to produce and operate coal power than wind power.

Coal and oil are the LARGEST recipients of government energy subsidies.

And we haven’t even touched upon the subject of external costs – which would make producing and operating coal and oil plants MUCH more expensive . . . we’ll continue this conversation on this point later in the week.


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