The hidden costs of coal

February 25, 2011

coal power plant
(Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by eutrophication&hypoxia)

Energy from coal might seem cheap on the surface, but when you add in the costs of coal-related pollution and health issues, the true cost of coal starts looking pretty steep.

Coal-fired power plants spew toxins into our air while mountaintop removal mining practices destroy our mountains and pollute surrounding waterways. Here are just a few of the hidden annual costs of coal from the Appalachian region alone, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study:

  • Public health: $75 billion
  • Health costs due to air pollution from coal power plants: $187 billion
  • Mercury emissions: $29 billion
  • Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions: $206 billion

According to the study, adding up all of these hidden costs would increase the per kWh price for coal by almost 18 cents. To put that in perspective, coal power now costs around 12 cents per kWh. Solar power costs between 10 and 15 cents per kWh.

Almost 40 percent of our energy supply here in the U.S. comes from coal, so just using less power is one way to reduce the coal you consume. If you can, switching some or all of your home’s power supply to alternative energy is amazing. For folks who can’t afford the investment to get that going, there are other ways you can reduce your coal dependence.

Cutting back on vampire power by using a smart power strip and remembering to unplug unused chargers can go a long way toward saving energy and reducing your coal use. In the warmer months air conditioning is the largest power suck in many homes, so try to take some simple measures to cool your home without the air conditioner.

It also might be time to take a look at your electronics and appliances. From your washer and dryer to your TV and gaming consoles, opting for efficiency can make a big difference in energy savings.

Get heard! Sierra Club has a petition to protect communities from toxic coal ash. You can also let your legislators know how you feel about coal and its effects on our health.



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