Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Coal Must Go

Thanks to Jim Davidson of St. Paul for his commentary in today's Star Tribune, in response to a pro-coal piece by Republican State Rep. Jim Newberger that ran earlier in the week.

Like Davidson, I know that changing an economy from one organizing principal to another is hard, and that I'm not the one who will have to deal with it first-hand, as will Newberger's constituents. But we can't keep mining and burning coal. There are jobs to be had in making clean energy.

More than 2,000 Minnesota jobs have been created by wind and solar energy in recent years. The pace will be much faster in coming years as technology reduces the costs of such energy by another 30 percent. Just weeks ago, the state Public Utilities Commission granted a contract to increase sevenfold Minnesota’s current solar capacity. That bid was won on economics alone. Coal will never again win a bid against wind or solar energy. That is our new reality.

Coal is “clean,” or so Newberger says. He never mentions the elephant in the room: carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). He brags of Sherco’s ability to service 2.5 million people. He touts its 2,400-megawatt capacity. Yes, both true. But at what cost to future generations, as climate warms and oceans rise?

Sherco burns 9 millions tons of coal yearly, emitting 26 million tons of CO2 — a harmful global-warming gas. Result: Each Sherco residential customer inherits 10 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Newberger boasts that such emissions are clean. Many find such misuse of language offensive and dangerous — not to mention politically motivated.

Sadly, Newberger is stalwart in his conviction that solar and wind power are not quite ready for prime-time mass production. That is but a feel-good fantasy of a person in denial. The coal industry is dying. Coal is a terribly dirty business — at all stages — and is destined for the dust bin. Wise political leaders will see the future coming, accept the opportunities and help build those economic realities in their districts.

Finally, for “dirty coal,” Newberger points a finger at Russia and China. He informs us they have “few, if any, pollution standards.” Perhaps. Yet China is adding wind and solar much faster than the United States. And China produces only 6 tons of CO2 per person; Russia, 11 tons per person. The United States, on the other hand? We produce 18 tons of CO2 per person. We have less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we produce 24 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

This single Sherco coal facility (as good as it might be) emits 10 tons of CO2 per year — per customer. How dare anyone call such an ancient and outdated energy clean?

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