US Coal is Saving Lives Right Now - Preserve Existing Coal Plants
By Fred Palmer, J.D. Senior Fellow-CO2 Policy, Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change and Head of Saving Us Coal
November 24, 2020 - In May of this year the Coronavirus pandemic was in full throat, infections increasing and people dying. These circumstances exist still and will continue until the vaccines coming to market work their magic.
Also in May, a web site styled “nature energy” (nature.com/natureenergy.com) published an article styled “Energy access is needed to maintain health during pandemics”, a truism that is mostly ignored and a truism that applies to non-pandemic conditions as well. As Neil Armstrong noted in 2000 in his capacity as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, on behalf of the Academy:
“ The top-rated improvement to the lines of earthlings in the 20th century was electrification. If anything shines as an example… it is clearly the power that we use in our homes and businesses“.
To that we can add human health and welfare and using coal for electricity generation is in the public interest as it advances human health and welfare. And we can also say that in the US by and large we still have universal electricity access, because of natural gas and coal plants, which together are a majority of national supply. Both are deeply in the public interest, CO2 emissions from combustion of both fuels notwithstanding.
The nature.com article details the link and need for dependable electricity supply to hospital operations to care for the truly sick. It goes on to point out for people living at home in isolation, dependable and affordable electric supply is needed for day to day self-care, a reality that most of us simply take for granted. Finally, the article reminds us all that the United Nations has set as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 7) “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.
The goal is of course appropriate and an imperative for every human on earth to enjoy and benefit from electricity supply as an inherent right to life and an inherent part of Modernity. But the goal is far from being met with 840 million people on earth with no electricity supply and just under 3 billion people with inadequate energy supply.
In the United States, we are blessed with virtually universal electric supply, although irrational climate change fear makes electricity supply prohibitively expensive in California and in the Northeast. The expense comes from their deep antipathy to coal and forced retirements of coal plants that people without electricity supply would rejoice if they had it.
Is there a risk that we have gone too far in retiring US coal plants needed for one of life’s necessities? There is and if you doubt that take a look at utilitydive.com today, Nov. 23, and the story headlined: “NERC: Pandemic, regional fuel shortages threaten winter grid operations in California, New England”
The NERC fear is extreme weather, natural gas shortages and resulting challenges to grid reliability. The fear is based on hard fact looking back to coal retirements, the 2014 Polar Vortex and the California experience this past summer.
There is a very simple solution to mitigating, and not worsening these risks, quit shutting in coal power plants that were designed and installed for 24/7 base-load use. Is that a realistic goal? California suggests the answer is “yes” as Reuter’s reported on September 1 of this year, and I quote:
“California, which imposed rolling blackouts during an oppressive heatwave on two days last month, on Tuesday extended the lives of aging natural gas plants it has been seeking to retire for a decade.“
California blinked on CO2 emissions elimination, embracing the pro people value of 24/7 electric supply. As a society we need to for once follow a California lead and embrace preserving the pro people value of 24/7 electric supply through preserving all operating US coal plants, CO2 emissions notwithstanding.