If you look at all the plants in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, they account for $85,594,777,367 each year in external costs that are not included in our electricity bills.
Depending on where you live, you might get part of your electricity from one or more of these plants and think to yourself that a few cents per kWh isn’t so bad, but as the authors conclude in this study, “The economic implications [of coal] go far beyond the prices we pay for electricity.”
In fact, the authors even admit that their study could not represent the complete costs of coal — some factors are simply too hard to quantify.
For example, the study
“omitted the impacts of toxic chemicals and heavy metals on ecological systems…the direct risks and hazards posed by sludges, slurry and [coal ash] impoundments; the full contributions of nitrogen deposition…the prolonged impacts of acid rain and acid mine drainage; many long-term impacts on the physical and mental health of those living in coal-field regions and nearby [mountaintop removal] sites; some health impacts and climate forcing due to increased tropospheric ozone formation and the full assessment of impacts due to an increasingly unstable climate.”
Yet, even without all of these important factors, it is still very easy for the authors to reach their overall conclusion:
Accounting for the many external costs over the life cycle for coal-derived electricity conservatively doubles to triples the price of coal per kWh of electricity generated.
While the authors don’t say how people like us can respond to this striking study, we at SACE know that first and foremost, we can make personal decisions to reduce our electricity usage and increase the efficiency of the electricity that we do use. Second, we need to push Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt rules that help reduce these costs by taking the oldest, dirtiest, least efficient and most expensive coal plants offline. We are at the very beginning of moving society away from coal and it is absolutely crucial that we appreciate the meaning of new information like this and use it to transition into the future.
*Individual electricity consumption is based on 2008 residential retail electricity sales and state populations. Electricity consumption is often also measured by households, which have a higher level of consumption than individuals.
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