Green all the way

Dear Editor:

I enthusiastically support Bob Lynch as the best candidate for the LPEA Board. I know that some in our local population want to continue the long-standing, good ol’ boy confederation represented by Bob’s opponent. Anything that remotely smacks of “green” must be some socialist plot. The argument of Bob’s opponents basically revolves around economics. They claim that renewable energy sources are just too expensive and will result in skyrocketing utility bills. So, coal is the only cost-effective solution.

Well, let’s look at the truth about the cost of coal. Coal is cheap only if you consider direct costs — mining, transportation and generation. If indirect, but very real costs are considered, much of the burden shifts to society (you and me) in the form of human and environmental costs. In a report published in 2011, researchers at the Harvard Medical School did a full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal, taking these indirect costs or “externalities” into account. This report reveals that the hidden costs of mining, transporting and burning coal amount to about $345 billion a year in the U.S.

Quoting the report, “Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar and other forms of non-fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.” The major cost is health effects from the pollution produced by mining, transportation and combustion. For example, a single, large coal-burning power plant releases millions of tons of toxic chemicals into the air — and ultimately into our bodies — every year. The nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury and other hazardous substances that come from coal combustion can lead to not only respiratory ailments, but also cardiovascular and nervous system disorders. In addition, coal plants in the U.S. produce 120 million tons of toxic waste in the form of coal ash and sludge every year. The toxins in coal ash, such as cadmium, chromium, lead and others, have been linked to cancer, organ disease, respiratory illness, neurological damage and reproductive and developmental problems. Finally, coal-burning power plants emit more than 30 percent of the U.S.’s global warming pollution, as much as all of our planes, trains and automobiles combined. And what value can we place on clear views across the Grand Canyon?

I will certainly not argue that renewable energy is free from detrimental effects. Solar and wind demand large areas of land, for example, and can affect wildlife and viewsheds. However, unlike coal, the impacts are mostly confined to the immediate area of the generation site and can be considered in the direct costs of energy production. As we recognize the true costs we all pay for fossil fuel generation and invest more in renewable resources, the cost of these alternatives will inevitably drop, to the benefit of all of us. Let’s continue the shift to a green LPEA Board, launched so convincingly last year, and elect Bob Lynch.

John Porco

This story was posted on May 1, 2014.