The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

As bad a deal as a stocking of coal

By Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

Join us this Monday at 5 p.m. to stand up for a clean energy future and fight the Coal Rush.
We live in the most economically “advanced” country in the world—we’re burning a fuel of the 1800s—45 percent of Mac’s power is coal, and we’re below the Minnesota average. If the energy industry and our national administration have their way, coal will become the fuel of the future. That’s until we get cooked by the carbon.

Energy companies nationwide are pushing for the installation of a surge of new coal plants—150 over the next couple decades. This is the most massive push for coal power in the last half-century. It’s even been given a name: the Coal Rush.

Why? One reason: global economic strategy. With the rise in prices of other fossil fuel sources, energy industries claim energy security—supposedly coal will fuel us where oil cannot. U.S. coal reserves are the largest in the world, and coal is—at least excluding all the human and ecological costs—quite cheap. We could burn coal for another 300 years at current consumption rates; assuming the trend of rising demand and the coal as a replacement for oil, that supply shrinks to 70-140 years—of course far too long from now to pay any attention to. Except for global warming, which is strangely the second reason for the Coal Rush.

Almost without doubt, the U.S. will have significant controls on carbon emissions within the next 10 years. The bills calling for it are already supported by a significant minority of Congress, and that’s under this administration. Energy companies know this, and they know it will take out their star fuel.

Dozens of old coal plants across the Midwest have none of the sulfur, mercury, or particulate pollution controls mandated in the ‘70s because they were built before the law was implemented and grandfathered in. The coal barons think this will happen again with carbon, that the faster they can put up more coal pre-legislation, the less they will have to worry about fixing new power to be low carbon. Emit more now so less is later controlled—it’s a ridiculous assumption: carbon is different, fighting global warming is not mitigating damage, it is about restructuring a global society. The 150 new coal plants proposed would lead to an increase in U.S. carbon emissions of nearly 30 percent over the next few decades—the U.S. of the future will not tolerate any cynical maneuvering by our energy companies to avoid a new future.
And now the fight is on our backdoor. The Ottertail Power Company has proposed to add a 600 mega-watt expansion to the existing Bigstone Coal Plant in South Dakota. The plant, which is located three miles from the Minnesota border, will not satisfy Minnesota’s pollution control standards but would supply electricity to the Twin Cities. The plant would dramatically increase mercury emissions and add massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. To add insult to injury, Bigstone 2’s power lines would stretch straight through the hills that contain some of the world’s best wind potential.

Minnesota is one of the top energy-importing states in the country. We buy coal from the Dakotas to feed our power plants, and electricity from huge destructive dams from the Boreal forests of Manitoba. Minnesota could also power roughly 15 percent of the entire US with its economically-recoverable wind potential, wind currently provides for three percent of Minnesota’s consumption. The traditional argument against wind and for coal is cost—check out the reality.

Wind energy can now be produced for three cents a kilowatt-hour—the price on electricity today is roughly eight cents a kilowatt hour in our area—there’s additional cost in transmission. Coal power from existing plants costs roughly two cents per kilowatt hour, but building an entirely new coal plant costs considerably more. The estimated price tag on Bigstone 2 has risen to $1.8 billion—that money could establish roughly 1500 mega-watts of wind power in western Minnesota, compared with 600 from Bigstone. Power companies are slow to adopt wind since it means more investment in decentralized grids and back-up power and more competition from farmers and other local developers who can build wind. Local wind energy creates far more economic activity than massive coal plants, and will avoid the cost spikes carbon-rich power will bring. Oh, and then there’s that stuff about saving the world from the energy crisis and climate change.

We have to nip the Coal Rush in the bud. If we can stop the first few plants and get some real global warming policy in place the Coal Rush is over. Leaders nationwide are working on the policy; I need your help to stop Bigstone.

5 PM, Monday the 16th Bateman Plaza, bring a bike. If you don’t have a bike, or can’t get one from Bike Share, contact me about public transportation. We’ll be riding down to the Public Utilities Commission in St. Paul. At 6 p.m. is a public hearing where we can voice our opposition to Bigstone Coal—they don’t expect a huge turnout—a few dozen people, vocal or not, can make all the difference. It’s time for Mac to step in. This single strong message can convince Minnesota to oppose—it can stop Bigstone. Seriously, here’s our chance—just be there.

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