A conversation about coal

Among ourselves we have been discussing coal and it`s problems – prompted by a recent news report – here


John W. Oliver said:

Coal is still advertised as an inexpensive fuel but the reality of its true cost is beginning to surface in North Carolina. Duke Energy has dumped the coal ash residue from their power plants along rivers and streams for decades. On Feb.2 of this year one of the dumping sites burst and polluted 70 miles of the Dan River. This finally got North Carolinian’s attention and there is a push for Duke to clean up its dumping grounds. Duke is opposed to the clean up because it would cost $10 billion, take decades and they’d have to lay the whole cost on their customers which would make the energy too expensive. From my point of view proper waste disposal should be counted as part of the true cost of coal which would mean it ain’t so cheap after all.

Erik Blakely replied:

Yes I agree although there is a problem with historic waste issues in that there comes a point when the only fair way is to fund the clean up by central govt. If you don’t then you just bankrupt firms destroying little old ladies life savings etc and end up without the capacity to keep the lights on. Here in Britain we have very expensive ongoing problems with acid minewater treatment and other legacies from our coal industry going back decades or even centuries. If we just billed the current coal producing firms in Britain for the cleanup they would go out of business and all our coal would be imported making the situation worse not better. If the firm in America was acting illegally in dumping then send the directors to prison. If not its best to look at ways that the bill can be paid by the firm in such a way that it is not immediately put out of business. We need to tell people about the true costs of fossil fuels now and in the past so that we make better choices for the future.

Simon Rayson responded:

It`s fascinating how renewables come under enormous scrutiny as to their precise harmfulness, and if they fail at being perfect then they are damned. Meanwhile rarely is such focus (and demand for perfection) placed upon such things as fossil fuel energy and nuclear. How to change that? Well it`s almost a whole shift in consciousness required – and that sort of thing doesn`t happen often (the change from the medieval to the age of enlightenment/science in the 17th century might well have been the last time it happened).

But all we can do is try – and recording our experiences of living a “greener”, more environmentally friendly life – warts and all, might be the best way. Or so it seems to me.

And then Vince Adams mentioned his experience:

As a kid I was brought up in North London. In the 50’s we experienced fog or smog called Pea Soupers when literally people walked in front of buses with lanterns and then amazingly we changed. Coal became smokeless, we began to use electricity and the smog went away. All of it was caused by coal and 60 years we saw the sense in reducing its importance. But slowly and by the back door it has comeback into usage at Power Stations where we don’t see it but it’s causing the same problems.

This time we have another factor the coal instead of being local is shipped from Australia, Canada and the USA causing a double whammy of global warming.

When will we learn ?