Opinion

Busting the Myths about Coal-Based Electricity

When it comes to coal-based electricity, this administration has been all too eager to use myths in justifying its energy policies. Achieving the president’s environmental legacy has unfortunately meant hiding energy facts from Americans and making winners and losers out of our resources.

The White House and its allies favor six primary misconceptions about coal power, which many Americans will likely recognize. After eight years of misguiding statements, it’s high time to present the realities of how coal-based electricity powers America.

MYTH: Coal-fired power plants are dirty.

FACT: Since 1970, coal-fired power plants have reduced emissions of three major air pollutants by 92 percent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. This level of cleanliness is the product of the $111 billion industry has invested through 2015 to reduce emissions. Power plant owners are expected to invest an additional $16 billion by 2018, helping ensure this critical resource is being used more cleanly and efficiently than ever before.

MYTH:  Coal-fired power plants do not use clean coal technology.

FACT: Actually, every coal-fired power plant in the U.S. uses one or more of the 16 clean coal technologies available today.

MYTH: Coal-fired power plants are retiring because of low natural gas prices.

FACT:  Plant owners cite EPA policies, like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, as the cause of 80 percent of all announced retirements. Additionally, should the courts rule in favor of EPA’s Power Plan, the costs to run many coal-fired power plants will cause even more to retire. While the administration is busy pinning the blame on “low natural gas prices,” the truth is they’re regulating hardworking Americans out their jobs. The low price argument won’t last much longer, either.  According to U.S. Energy Information Administration projections, natural gas prices for electric power generation will nearly double between 2016 and 2040, while coal prices over the same period will only increase 30 percent.

MYTH: The U.S. doesn’t need coal-fired power plants.

FACT:  Unless Americans want to spend a summer without AC or a winter without heat, the U.S. can’t eliminate coal-fired power plants. Coal must be available to ensure a reliable and affordable supply of electricity – especially during heightened weather conditions when other ‘just-in-time’ sources can’t do the job. Besides seasonal reliability, coal-fired power plants are also responsible for providing base-load power, which refers to electricity sources that can operate 24/7. They are generally shut down only for scheduled maintenance or emergency repair, but their electricity output is still adjustable according to electricity demands. So, when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, that’s where coal-fired power plants come in to provide much-needed backup.

In addition to keeping our grid stable, coal-fired power plants also assure electricity prices remain affordable. It’s a fact – states that use more coal to generate electricity on average have lower electricity rates. Shutting down plants and replacing them with more expensive, intermittent energy sources comes with a whopping price tag of nearly $300 billion.

MYTH: Pollution from coal-fired power plants causes premature mortality.

FACT:  EPA’s argument of fine particulate matter emissions causing premature mortality can only be supported through the assumption that even safe levels of fine PM cause health issues. EPA itself sets the bar for what is considered “safe,” and ambient concentrations of fine PM comply with standards meant to protect sensitive populations like children and the elderly. However, when arguing the “health benefits” of its power plan, EPA conveniently assumes its own levels are “unsafe,” revealing that a twisted chain of logic is necessary to support its dubious health claims.

MYTH: “The Clean Power Plan … takes real action on climate change.”

FACT:   The Supreme Court issued a historic stay of EPA’s power plan in February, but even if its shaky legal foundation somehow survives judicial scrutiny, the effect would be trivial. The plan would only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by less than one percent, yet would cost more than $20 billion per year. EPA itself has admitted the actual environmental benefits of its plan are minimal, which begs the question: why cause so much financial pain for no environmental gain?

Frequently facts speak for themselves. So the next time you hear these same myths about coal-based electricity, take a moment, step back and consider the following: is this fact or fiction? More often than not, if you have your facts straight, they’re myths that can easily be busted.

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