December 12th, 2012 James L Bradley

Historical records demonstrate that humans have been burning coal for going on 5,000 years or since the Bronze Age – from that time the participants in this exercise knew that it was a dirty fuel maybe not because it was polluting the air but in the simple fact that its dust and the particles emitted prompted them to wash more often, Coal today is the primary energy source for electric production around the world as such it is the main source of carbon emissions, in this it is blamed as significantly contributing to the Climate Change we are walking through. It is not my intention to “debate” whether CO2 is causing or not causing the weather patterns and rising temperature in some parts of our planet, but to define our increased usage of the rock that burns when ignited. To be truthful its chemical makeup consists of more than just “carbon” where it has variable quantities of sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen – and riding on top of all this is the simple fact that bar-none it is the cheapest energy option we have today. In addition of the known coal deposits the latest estimate is that we have at least another 100-years of coal supplies, as we all know and understand as the capitalistic society morphs its way into societies across the globe, the bottom line remains the motive behind its consumption, and clean air or the elimination of black lung disease kicks around outside of profits. As our world population increases our demand for the primary byproduct of coal - electricity is not decreasing, back in 2006 we mined over 13.487 trillion pounds of coal, in 2011 we mined over 17.218 trillion pounds noted as an increase of 27.66% in just five years. As for the cost of a ton, in the US in 2006 it averaged around $62.06 and in 2011 $87.38, amounting to a 40.8% increase in five years – an increase that no where comes near the vastly fluctuating cost of a

barrel of oil, and it is constant – in other words although we have more coal than honest politicians the price will continue to rise. Consider the fact that the USA accounts for 27.56% of the world’s production, whereas in 2011 that value at the average price equaled $207.35billion, hardly an industry that will go down without a fight. In 2011 coal was used to produce 46% of the 4 trillion kilowatthours of all the electricity used in the USA, in 2005 the total 2.03 trillion kilowatthours being produced by 615 coal-fired power plants with Texas leading the group at producing 7.34% of the total US demand, and Pennsylvania with the most number of plants providing 6.03% of the demand. During 2010 2,472 coal fired generators were noted in the US – generators being individual electric units producing electricity. The cost to convert a coal-fired plant to natural gas is not cheap, but in most cases a whole lot less expensive to implement new controls or technology to reduce the emissions from a coal-fired stack. For example the cost to convert four coal-burning units in Denver is estimated at $1.3 billion or $325mil per unit, while a single 630-megawatt plant in New York State is planning to install pollution controls such as scrubbers, thereby reducing its output of sulfur dioxide and other acid gases at a cost of $1 billon. Using average estimate of the Denver conversion we see that converting all of the 2010 coal-fired generators shows an estimated cost of $803.3 trillion, and when you factor in the lost of coal-mining jobs – at lets say 75% of the $207.35billion per year, a significant hole in our economy, albeit the investment of conversion fills the gap. On average a coal-fired plant produces 2270 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour, while a natural gas-fired plant produces 50% of that value or 1,135 lbs/MWH…yet! According to an article on 12-7-2012 in Forbes the 1st quarter of 2012 saw the US carbonemission value hit a 20-year low, whereas over the past five-years the US has witnessed substantial reductions in its CO2 emissions, this in direct contradiction to what the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast in 1998, where they predicted that the US emissions would increase by 1.3% annually through 2020.

The primary reason (among others) is the continued discovery of copious amount of natural gas being found and processed from shale, whereas the experts in the field are now telling us that this new found abundant supply will provide more-than-enough to meet the needs of the domestic consumption for far into the future, along with creating a reduction in consumer expenses for energy, they predict that the US will become a major exported of the natural gas. It is also noted that there already has been some coal-fired plants being modified or replaced by gas-fire plants thereby reducing our carbon foot-print. Unfortunately the process of ripping this gas from our soil, in some cases requires Fracking a fast becoming dirty-word in some circles, mainly due to the chemicals injected into the ground that are leaching into the local aquifer and contaminating the soil in the area, in some cases causing extreme health effects not only in the human population but in the livestock, and the crops of the farms. Once the industry is yanked back into check it is believed that the natural gas industry will bloom, but as we’re reading as long as the oil and gas industry is permitted to claim competitive rights disallowing the public to know what they are being subjected too, the process of “fracking” will go unchecked and the population will once more feel the effects of the rush to the dollar. Proponents of the “fracking” have made attempts to compare their procedures against the emissions from what is generated via coal, a lame attempt in that most of the emissions from coal is slammed by the CO2 factor and a bit of Mercury, and some coal dust making the laundry hanging on the line dark grey – compare this to the secret chemicals blended with huge amount of water and forced into the ground, to bubble up and flow through the underground streams morphing to the surface miles from the injection location – sort of like comparing apples to oranges. If the industry continues or its merry way brushing aside environmental concerns the hue and cry will become deafening, and even if they do change their method of operation they will eventually make the USA the largest supplier of natural gas. There is a push to convert some of the import facilities on the countries coast line into export units, a move that has some concerned that by exporting the gas the internal price in-country will rise, thereby creating a rising cost in the production of electricity. With the projected reserves within the land and being able to capture the amount it is said that the mining and use of coal will be left by the side of the road, although the countries that still use coal to produce power, such as Japan, South Korea will snap up the now cheap coal, creating an offshore industry for the coal mines. In any case it will be more than just a little while before our electric producing industry is operating 100% on natural gas.

In conclusion it would be remiss on my part to not acknowledge the fact that the economic downturn being experienced across the globe, this collapse of the economy has done its part in reducing our CO2 emissions across the board. In this downturn we can expect any attempt to pry some taxes from the “unconventional oil and gas industry” to be met with strong resistance from the players, leaning heavily on the state of the fragile economy thereby stalling any progress within the natural gas field. The industry itself will continue to tout the advantages of Natural Gas and its extraction from the huge shale fields, of course calling for a relaxation in existing EPA regulations and a complete exercise in killing any proposed regulations that will hoist any new environmental rules on their operations, such a complete unveiling of the chemicals and methods of extraction. Coupled with the decrease in CO2 emissions is the fact that societies promotion of energy use improving buildings, appliances, and fossil fuel all driven by the goal of energy independence. It is also predicted that by 2021 that at least 20 gigawatts that is generated by coal-fired plants will be retired, all hinging on the fact that new gas-fired plants will replace them. Bottom line, expect based on our electric consumption which will only increase, in this we will experience and increase in cost per kilowatt hour, whereas today we see that Washington State, on average enjoys the lowest charge at $0.0797 and Hawaii has the highest at $0.2783 per kwh, the nations average is at $0.1183, the preceding rates (before taxes) based on 2010 data. As the nation converts from coal to gas, albeit gas is in abundance and less costly expect your rates to increase, the providers as you know are not in business to lose profits in this they will hoist the cost of the conversion on their customers. They will broadcast with glee that in order to meet or exceed the projected decrease in CO2 emissions and the other harmful effects of coal that we all will have to pay – and we will, but that is just the cost of existing in our new digital power hungry age.

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