Half of the electricity produced in the United States is generated by the burning of coal. World wide, proven reserves of coal are about 909 billion metric tons, which could sustain the current uses of coal for another 155 years. Coal-generated electricity is more dependable than electricity from wind; and users pay less for electricity from coal-fired plants than they pay for solar-generated electricity. There is no possibility that a coal-fired plant will melt down like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island; and coal-fired plants do not require radioactive fuel.
However, when all of its environmental impacts are considered together, coal is by far the most destructive of all the fossil fuels:
Destruction of Real Estate
Ninety-five percent of China's coal is mined from deep in the earth through a process called "longwall," which often leaves behind empty mines prone to either collapse or sinkholes. According to media reports from China, this has caused one-seventh of the land in the north-central province of Shanxi to sink, due to underground mining tunnels. International environmental advocacy groups such as the Energy Foundation, and the Natural Research Defense Council estimate that 4 million hectares (nearly 10 million acres) of land have been lost to mining activities in China. About 1,900 villages and over 1 million people have been negatively impacted by geological disasters caused by coal mining, the Energy Foundation claimed in a 2006 study. The major coal mining areas of Shanxi, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia have also witnessed a steady increase in coal mining accidents that have killed thousands of miners.
India, by contrast, uses the “opencast” mining method, which requires exploiting large tracts of land. This has severely affected vegetation and tree cover, caused soil erosion and dust pollution and depleted forest cover.
In the U.S. coal was once extracted by digging tunnels into the ground, but the new approach is to remove the layer of dirt and rock on top of the coal, then take the coal out, and then put the original dirt and rock back. Of course there are trees and animals – entire ecosystems – on top of that "dirt." Reclamation laws were passed in the 1970s requiring proper reclamation of strip-mined land, however the ecosystem on reclaimed of land is usually not as rich as the original.
Mountain-top removal is a variant of strip mining in which a mountain peak is removed to get to the coal underneath. The common practice is to fill in a nearby valley with the mountain peak, burying any stream and habitat that's in the valley. This type of strip mining has had a devastating effect on people near the operations, on their homes and their communities; on rivers, streams, lakes and water supplies; and on the environment in general. Over seven hundred miles of streams have been buried and over 300,000 acres of forests have been wiped out in Appalachia by the mountain top mining process. Coal operations do supply many locals with jobs, but as mechanization has increased, the number and quality of the jobs has decreased.
Mountaintop-removal mining and the chemical cleaning of coal also threatens Appalachian headwater streams, which are the drinking water source for the southeastern United States – in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, an area that has endured frightening water shortages recently.
Coal-to-liquid plants – which some “coal state” politicians are scrambling to site in their states – have a consequence that many observers underestimate or ignore: the increase in production of coal sludge – one of the least known and least regulated toxic wastes in the United States – a direct threat to water supplies.
Ben Stout, a biologist from Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va. (who testified in the landmark Bragg v. Robertson case, where 88 community members sued a coal operator for destroying their land) has witnessed the environmental and human health devastation wreaked on the unique mountain ecosystems and communities of Appalachia firsthand. "Clean Coal Technologies is a misnomer," he says. "There's nothing clean about coal. The extraction end is not addressed; if you live in southern West Virginia, the landscape you grew up in has been destroyed and rearranged. The question is, why are so many people in West Virginia so desperate to get hooked up to county water supply?"
The answer is: toxic coal sludge. Coal sludge – laden with heavy metals like arsenic, chromium, cadmium and mercury – found in coal and released during extraction, has been pumped underground in West Virginia for decades, with scant regulatory oversight. The sludge has already intercepted the underground water tables, from which mountain communities draw their drinking water. Coal sludge also contains carcinogenic chemicals like floculants, which are used to process coal.
In West Virginia, the second-largest coal-producing state in the nation, more than 470 mountaintops have been blown apart, 800 square miles of ecologically diverse temperate hardwood forest have been razed and replaced with more than 4,000 valley fills and 675 toxic coal sludge ponds. By 2012, the U.S. government estimates that we will have destroyed 2,500 square miles of pristine Appalachia. There are over 107 trillion gallons of coal slurry stored or permitted to be stored in active West Virginia "impoundments."
The total mechanization of coal extraction, epitomized by mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining, has buried thousands of miles of vital headwater streams and pumped previously mined lands full of sludge. The coal industry says that it has "elevated" some streams -- after they've buried them upstream – relocating them and "repurposing" them into chemical spillways called National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) streams.
Coal sludge – the waste by-product of the chemical cleaning of coal in preparation for shipping to market – is initially put into surface ponds, but eventually this chemically concentrated, pudding-like waste leaches into the groundwater. In southern West Virginia, where the largest seams of coal lie, whole communities have been poisoned over the years by the mining waste that has contaminated their drinking water. Coal sludge is a disaster waiting to happen, like the 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge that stand behind a 325-foot, leaking, unsound dam of slate, 400 yards from the Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, W.Va. Or Brushy Fork in Boone County, W.Va., one of the largest coal sludge dumps in the world, holding back 9 billion gallons of coal waste.
Sludge is also injected underground into the sprawling abandoned mine works of decades past. Coal sludge is turning up in the water in Mingo County, W.Va., where documentation of this practice stretches back for more than 30 years. Residents of Mingo County have suffered catastrophic illness after the toxic sludge breached the local aquifers that feed home wells. More than 650 of these residents have signed on to a massive class-action lawsuit against the offending coal company, Massey Energy.
Pursuing "clean coal technology" will cause an increase in the production of coal and toxic coal waste, which contains dangerous levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc. In some cases, there are no standards by which the contaminants should be measured, because some have never before been found in drinking water before.
While scrubbers on smoke stacks have cleaned coal-fired power plant emissions considerably, the cleaning on the combustion end has caused the processing of coal for market to be exponentially dirtier: the coal going to market is cleaner-burning today, with lower sulfur and mercury content, but these dangerous elements are left behind in the coal sludge and in drinking water.
Coal-generated water pollution is also a major concern for China, where 400 of its 600 cities have inadequate fresh water supplies, while 100 more face serious water shortage problems, according to a World Bank research estimate. "To produce every ton of coal in China, more than 2.5 tons of water is polluted," says Hu Min, program officer at the Beijing office of the Energy Foundation. She is also critical of the air pollution caused by the combustion of untreated coal released by Chinese coal refineries. "The yellow smog released by such plants can cause cancer in people exposed to it for long periods," she says. "According to the World Health Organization, of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 16 are in China."
Indian watersheds in coastal areas that provide cooling water for coal-fired plants have their delicate aquatic ecosystems severely impacted. Researchers believe that the temperature of water discharged from the coal plants back to the watersheds is hotter by 15.6 degrees Celsius than the water body from which it came. This affects aquatic life, which is unable to sustain high variations in temperature. The effects are visible in India's Western State of Maharashtra, where hot water discharge from coal plants in the district of Dahanu has caused severe declines in fish and other aquatic life forms.
Laws enacted in the 1970s resulted in improved pollution controls on new power plants, but coal is still the dirtiest energy source in the US. When it's burned, coal releases a number of problem pollutants: 1. sulfur compounds (cause acid rain), 2. nitrogen compounds (contribute to acid rain and smog), 3. mercury (a nervous system toxin), 4. carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas).
The acids in acid rain react chemically with any object they contact. Acids are corrosive chemicals that react with other chemicals by giving up hydrogen ions (H+). The acidity of a substance comes from the abundance of free hydrogen ions when the substance is dissolved in water. Acidity is measured using a pH scale with units from 0 to 14. Acidic substances have pH numbers from 1 to 6—the lower the pH number, the stronger, or more corrosive, the substance. The pH scale is logarithmic: a decrease of one unit on the pH scale means that the acid concentration has increased by a factor of 10. For example, a substance with a pH of 3 is ten times as acidic as a substance with a pH of 4. Some non-acidic substances, called bases or alkalis, are like acids in reverse—they readily accept the hydrogen ions that the acids offer. Bases have pH numbers from 8 to 14, with the higher values indicating increased alkalinity. Pure water has a neutral pH of 7—it is not acidic or basic.
Rain, snow, or fog with a pH below 5.6 is considered acid rain. When bases mix with acids, the bases lessen the concentration of the acid. This buffering action regularly occurs in nature. Rain, snow, and fog formed in regions free of acid pollutants are slightly acidic, but they have a pH greater than 5.6. Alkaline chemicals in the environment, found in rocks, soils, lakes, and streams, regularly neutralize this precipitation. But when precipitation is highly acidic, with a pH less than 5.6, naturally occurring acid buffers become depleted over time, and nature’s ability to neutralize the acids is impaired. Acid rain has been linked to wide-spread environmental damage, including soil and plant degradation, depleted life in lakes and streams, and destruction of some human-made structures.
In soil, acid rain dissolves and washes away nutrients needed by plants. It can also dissolve toxic substances, such as aluminum and mercury, which are naturally present in some soils, freeing these toxins to pollute water or to poison plants that absorb them. Some soils are quite alkaline and can neutralize acid deposition indefinitely; others, especially thin mountain soils derived from granite or gneiss, buffer acid only briefly.
By removing useful nutrients from the soil, acid rain slows the growth of plants, especially trees. It also attacks trees more directly by eating holes in the waxy coating of leaves and needles, causing brown dead spots. If many such spots form, a tree loses some of its ability to make food through photosynthesis. Also, organisms that cause disease can infect the tree through its injured leaves. Once weakened, trees are more vulnerable to other stresses, such as insect infestations, drought, and cold temperatures. Spruce and fir forests at higher elevations, where the trees literally touch the acid clouds, seem to be most at risk. Acid rain has been blamed for the decline of spruce forests on the highest ridges of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. In the Black Forest of southwestern Germany, half of the trees are damaged from acid rain and other forms of pollution.
Acid rain falls into and drains into streams, lakes, and marshes. Where there is snow cover in winter, local waters grow suddenly more acidic when the snow melts in the spring. Most natural waters are close to chemically neutral, neither acidic nor alkaline: their pH is between 6 and 8. In the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, the water in some lakes now has a pH of less than 5 as a result of acid rain. This means they are at least ten times more acidic than they should be. In the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, a quarter of the lakes and ponds are acidic, and many have lost their brook trout and other fish. In the middle Appalachian Mountains, over 1,300 streams are afflicted. All of Norway’s major rivers have been damaged by acid rain, severely reducing salmon and trout populations.
The effects of acid rain on wildlife can be far-reaching. If a population of one plant or animal is adversely affected by acid rain, animals that feed on that organism may also suffer. Ultimately, an entire ecosystem may become endangered. Some species that live in water are very sensitive to acidity, some less so. Freshwater clams and mayfly young, for instance, begin dying when the water pH reaches 6.0. Frogs can generally survive more acidic water, but if their supply of mayflies is destroyed by acid rain, frog populations may also decline. Fish eggs of most species stop hatching at a pH of 5.0. Below a pH of 4.5, water is nearly sterile and unable to support any wildlife.
Land animals dependent on aquatic organisms are also affected. Scientists have found that populations of snails living in or near water polluted by acid rain are declining in some regions. In the Netherlands songbirds are finding fewer snails to eat. The eggs these birds lay have weakened shells because the birds are receiving less calcium from snail shells.
Acid rain damages buildings, statues, automobiles, and other structures made of stone, metal, or any other material exposed to weather for long periods. The corrosive damage can be expensive and – in cities with historic buildings – tragic: both the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, are deteriorating due to acid pollution.
Coal is the biggest source of mercury contamination in our air, and it is among the worst offenders for producing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Emissions-scrubbing technology can remove most of the mercury, sulfur and nitrogen emissions, but current law only requires these scrubbers for new plants. This requirement was recently weakened to allow power plant upgrades without requiring state-of-the-art pollution controls. Also, while it may be possible to capture and sequester carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant, the technology –if it will work at all- can only be used with new plants, because the basic design of the plant must be completely different. Thus, for as long as they continue to operate, hundreds of old coal-fired power plants will pollute at rates up to 10 times those of modern coal plants.
The largest sources of mercury pollution are coal-fired power plants. Airborne mercury emitted by these facilities can be deposited anywhere, even tens of thousands of kilometers – literally across continents – from the smokestack sources. Biological processes change much of the deposited mercury into methyl-mercury, a potent neurotoxin that humans and other organisms readily absorb. Methyl-mercury easily travels up the aquatic food chain, accumulating at higher concentrations at each level. Larger predator species contain the most mercury, which is then passed on to those who eat them. Since the industrial (coal-burning) revolution began, mercury contamination in the environment has jumped threefold. The 600 plus coal-fired power plants in the United States burn 1 billion tons of coal and release 98,000 pounds (44 metric tons) of mercury into the air each year. Power plants yield an additional 81,000 pounds of mercury pollution in the form of solid waste, including fly ash and scrubber sludge, and 20,000 pounds of mercury from “cleaning” the coal before it is burned. In sum, U.S. coal-fired power plants pollute the environment with some 200,000 pounds of mercury annually.
One out of six women of childbearing age in the United States has blood mercury concentrations high enough to damage a developing fetus. Thus 630,000 of the 4 million babies born in the country each year are at risk of neurological damage because of exposure to dangerous mercury levels in the womb. Fetuses, infants, and young children are most at risk for mercury damage to their nervous systems. Mercury exposure damages cardiovascular, immune, and reproductive systems. Chronic low-level exposure pre-natally, or in the early years of life, can delay development and hamper performance in tests of attention, fine motor skills, language, visual spatial skills, and verbal memory. At high concentrations, mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and even death. Humans are exposed to mercury primarily by eating contaminated fish. Forty-five of the 50 states have issued consumption advisories limiting the eating of fish caught locally because of their high mercury content. Analyses of fish samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 500 lakes and reservoirs across the country found mercury in every single sample. In 55 percent of them, mercury levels exceeded the EPA’s “safe” limit for a woman of average weight eating fish twice a week, and 76 percent exceeded limits for children under the age of three. Four out of five predator fish—those higher on the food chain, such as tuna or swordfish—exceeded the limits.
Particulate matter from coal combustion has long been known to harm the respiratory system. Recent research has shown that small airborne particulate matter can also cross from the lungs into the bloodstream, leading to cardiac disease, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. In the United States, 23,600 deaths each year can be attributed to air pollution from power plants. Those dying prematurely, due to exposure to particulate matter, lose an average of 14 years of life. The burning of coal is also responsible for some 554,000 asthma attacks, 16,200 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks each year. Atmospheric power plant pollution in the United States racks up an estimated annual health care bill of over $160 billion.
Coal currently satisfies most of Asia's power needs. However (it) heavily pollutes ecosystems and environments from extraction to combustion…It emits noxious chemicals such as sulfur dioxide, mercury and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere. In 2005, China released more than 25 million tons of sulfur dioxide – 90 percent of which was generated by the combustion of coal. These chemicals cause respiratory ailments, coronary heart disease, brain damage and cardiovascular illness…air pollution from coal-burning activities has been linked to pulmonary disease (and is) the second largest single cause of adult death in China.
Science Daily reports that pollution from coal mining has a negative impact on public health in mining communities. Residents are at an increased risk of developing chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases. As coal production increases, so does the incidence of chronic illness. Coal-processing chemicals, equipment powered by diesel engines, explosives, toxic impurities in coals, and even dust from uncovered coal trucks causes environmental pollution that has a negative affect on public health. People in coal mining communities have a 70 percent increased risk for developing kidney disease; have a 64 percent increased risk for developing pulmonary diseases such as emphysema; and are 30 percent more likely to report high blood pressure. Total mortality rates are higher in coal-mining areas compared to other areas of Appalachia and the nation. The incidence of mortality has been consistently higher in coal-mining areas for as long as mortality rate figures have been available: there are 313 excess deaths due to coal-mining pollution every year in West Virginia.
Black lung disease is often found in older workers in the coal industry. It is caused by inhalation, over many years, of small amounts of coal dust. The risk of having black lung disease is directly related to the amount of coal dust inhaled over the years. The disease typically affects workers over age 50. Its common name comes from the fact that the inhalation of heavy deposits of coal dust makes miners lungs look black instead of a healthy pink. Despite the technology available to control the hazard, miners still run the risk of developing this disease. Particles of fine coal dust, which a miner breathes when he is in the mines, cannot be destroyed within the lungs or removed from them; so the particles build up. Eventually, this build-up causes thickening and scarring, making the lungs less efficient in supplying oxygen to the blood. Consequently, the primary symptom of the disease is shortness of breath, which gradually gets worse as the disease progresses. In severe cases, the patient may develop cor pulmonale, an enlargement and strain of the right side of the heart caused by chronic lung disease. This may eventually cause right-sided heart failure. Also, some patients develop emphysema, leading to shortness of breath, then respiratory and heart failure. Others develop a severe type of black lung disease called progressive massive fibrosis, in which damage continues in the upper parts of the lungs even after exposure to the dust has ended. Scientists aren't sure what causes this serious complication. Some think that it may be due to the breathing of a mixture of coal and silica dust that is found in certain mines. Silica is far more likely to lead to scarring than coal dust alone.
Coal promoters envision a "clean coal technology" future, fueled by liquefying and gasifying coal, and by capturing carbon emissions and injecting them underground. By 2030 the West Virginia Division of Energy (WVDoE) – a nascent state agency formed in July 2007 -- wants to oust oil and exalt coal by replacing the 1.3 billion gallons of foreign oil the state currently imports every year. The WVDoE believes "that higher energy prices are providing and will continue to provide market opportunities" for a variety of alternative coal technologies, including "coal waste, coal fines and coal bed methane," according to a document released in December 2007 called "A Blueprint for the Future." However scientists and environmentalists say "clean coal" does not exist; it is a misnomer and an oxymoron. The National Resources Defense Council says that using the term "clean coal" makes about as much sense as saying "safe cigarettes." The extraction and cleaning of coal inevitably decimates ecosystems and communities. When coal is washed (to make it clean), the dirty wash water is kept in sludge ponds, while the water evaporates. On Dec 30, 2008, the containment for one such sludge pond was breached, and more than 1 billion gallons of toxic sludge flooded the Tennessee countryside, destroying 15 homes and poisoning 400 acres of previously fertile soil.
In Kansas, Governor Kathleen Sebelius recently blocked plans for two coal-fired electricity plants. Afterward, a full page ad in Kansas newspapers explained that because of Sebelius' decision, "Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran." The ad displayed the grinning faces of the leaders of these countries and continued, "Without new coal-fueled plants in our state, experts predict that electric bills will skyrocket and Kansans will be more dependent than ever on hostile, foreign energy sources." In fact, Kansas exports natural gas to other states, and the United States does not even import natural gas from Russia, Venezuela or Iran, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The U.S. has grandiose plans for more than 100 new coal-fired power plants, but they hinge on being able to sell legislators and the public on outfitting and funding these new plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. This process captures the carbon dioxide before it can escape into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 would then be pumped and stored underground.
Is it really possible to bury our daily CO2 emissions? Australian physicist, Karl Kruszelnicki told the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov. 1, "One cubic kilometer of CO2 to get rid of every day? It's not possible! They don't tell you that's how much they've got to get rid of. They make reassuring noises that they're spending millions looking for underground caverns. But I'm here to tell you that they're not going to find it...they can only store 1/1,000th of 1 percent – not anywhere near to their daily output."
Not only do we not have the capacity to store all the CO2 we produce; it turns out that the technology isn't there yet either. The coal industry acknowledges that CCS is 15 years away, but continues to promote the myth of "clean coal technology" and continues to guide generous government subsidies to themselves and to West Virginia universities, assigning valuable research money to dirty technology. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 2007 report "The Future of Coal" stated, "There is no standard for measurement, monitoring, and verification of CO2 distribution. Duration of post-injection monitoring is an unresolved issue."
Coal promoters are betting on a pipe dream with an entire ecosystem at stake. Adding CCS to the plans for the more than 100 proposed coal-fired power plants that are on the drawing board would increase operating budgets by 50 to 80 percent. Gasifying and liquefying of coal into syn-gas and diesel would create potential emissions twice as carbon-rich as petroleum-based gasoline or natural gas. If coal promoters gets their way, the U.S. Air Force will cruise the skies on liquid coal fuel – spewing dangerously concentrated CO2 into our fragile atmosphere, and we'll be building power plants based on false promises from an outlaw industry.
Why Do We Allow This to Happen?
The use of coal is an unmitigated catastrophe for our planet. If electrical users could see and experience the consequences of making electricity from coal, whenever they switched on an electrical appliance –if they had to pay the true cost of making electricity from coal – there might be more pressure on utilities to find safer sources of enegy. However, the consequences of coal’s use are so spread out in time, and so widely distributed geographically and financially, that most users don’t think about them. The consequences are diffused over tens of years, tens of thousands of miles, and tens of millions of victims. A coal mine may be closed for more than a hundred years before the land above it begins to subside into huge sinkholes, swallowing farms, highways, and houses. The atmospheric accumulation of CO2 produced from the burning of coal may take as long as 50 years to manifest itself in the form of global warming. Similarly, it may take as long as 20 years for the gradually increasing concentration of acid –from the SO2 produced by the burning of coal – to kill a pristine mountain lake. A coal miner may be long retired before symptoms of black lung disease manifest themselves and ruin his life. And who pays for all this? Are the lost real-estate values, the effects of global warming, the dead mountain lakes, and the misery of ruined miner’s lives included in the electrical ratepayer’s bill? Not very often: most of the cost of coal-generated electricity is “waived” for the electrical rate-payers. When a rate-payer adjusts the thermostat on her electric blanket, she does not see the giant bulldozers pushing the top off of a mountain and into a valley, exposing a stratum of coal and ruining an entire local culture – she doesn’t see it because it is happening thousands of miles away from her. She does not experience the choking ash, smoke, and pollution of the power plant, because she lives upwind and 50 miles away from it; and she does not see the effects of coal-caused global-warming because the change is so gradual, and it is spread over the entire planet.
We humans are permitting coal-generated electricity because we view each different cost separately as an independent piece. We have got to stop doing that. We must somehow view all of the consequences as a single group, so we can get a grasp of the total effect. Unfortunately, to be able do that, we are going to have to look at each problem separately – just one more time.
One Other Problem
Oh. And there is one other problem with coal. It kills lots of coal miners - not exactly a pollution problem, but definitely a serious ongoing problem that does not go away. For well over 100 years, in spite of a non-stop flow of new promises and regulations, coal mining companies have continued to put profits ahead of mine safety. There is no reason to believe that situation will change. Here are just a few examples from the US:
Dec 6, 1907 -- 362 miners killed in explosion at Monongah # 6 and 8 in WV.
Nov 13, 1909 -- 259 miners are killed in a fire at the Cherry Mine in IL.
Oct 22, 1913 -- Explosion kills 263 at Stag Canyon # 2 Coal Mine in Dawson, NM
Jun 8, 1917 -- 163 miners killed in fire at Granite Mountain Shaft Mine in Butte, MT
Jan 10, 1940 -- 91 miners killed by explosion at Pond Creek # 1 in Bartley, WV.
Mar 16, 1940 -- Explosion at Willow Grove # 10 in St. Clairsville OH kills 72.
Mar 25, 1947 -- 111 miners killed in explosion at Centralia # 5 in Centralia, IL.
Dec 21, 1951 -- An explosion at Orient # 2 mine in West Frankfort, IL kills 119
Nov 20, 1968 -- 78 miners killed by explosion at Consol # 9 mine Farmington WV
Dec 30, 1970 -- 38 miners are killed in explosion at # 15 and 16 Mines Hyden, KY
May 2, 1972 -- 91 miners killed in fire at Sunshine Mine in Kellogg, ID
Mar 15, 1981 -- 15 miners killed by explosion Dutch Creek # 1, Redstone, CO
Dec 19, 1984 -- 27 miners killed in fire at Wilberg Mine in Emery County, UT
Sep 23, 2001 -- 13 killed by explosion at # 5 Mine, Brookwood AL
Jan 2, 2006 -- 12 men die from carbon monoxide poisoning at Sago Mine in WV
May 20, 2006 -- 5 killed in an explosion at Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County KY
Apr 05, 2010 -- Explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal WV kills 29 miners.
Nov 24, 2010 -- Explosion at Pike River Coal in New Zealand kills another 29 miners.
How many 300,000,000 watt (300 mW) coal-fired power plants would be required to replace just half of the 12,900,000,000,000 watts (12.9 Terawatts), presently produced from carbon-based fuels every hour here on Earth, assuming that the coal-fired power plants are operating at 90% (0.9) efficiency? And how much would it cost for that many plants? (I know, I know. This is crazy: coal-fired IS carbon-based - we are just doing this for comparison purposes - it will all make sense in the end!)
6,450,000,000,000 watts/(300,000,000 watts per plant x 0.9) = 23,889 plants
Each plant costs about $1,200,000,000 installed.
$1,200,000,000/plant x 23,889 plants = $28,670,000,000,000
Excuse me? $28.67 TRILLION dollars????
It's a pretty scary number, but just for future comparison purposes, to eventually put this number into perspective, let's just calculate the cost per Terawatt:
$28.67 Trillion/6.45 Terawatts = $4.44 Trillion/Terawatt (remember this number!)