Friday, April 15, 2011

TVA Moves Away From Dirty Power As Coal's Long Sunset Continues

I wrote last year about how, by helping kill clean energy & climate legislation, politicians claiming to be on coal's side were actually helping accelerate coal's inevitable decline. Without a Congressional mandate to pretend "clean" coal is real and massive subsidies for technology research, coal wouldn't be able to compete against natural gas, solar and wind power.

States like Colorado have already begun shuttering coal plants and moving to cleaner energy sources. Dominion Virginia Power is switching coal plants to natural gas & biomass. And now the Tennessee Valley Authority is announcing plans to phase out 18 units at three dirty, coal-fired power plants and install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional units:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The settlement will require TVA to invest a TVA estimated $3 to $5 billion on new and upgraded state-of-the-art pollution controls that will prevent approximately 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to $27 billion in annual health benefits. TVA will also invest $350 million on clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.

"This agreement will save lives and prevent billions of dollars in health costs. Modernizing these plants and encouraging clean energy innovation means better health protections and greater economic opportunities for the people living near TVA facilities,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Investments in pollution control equipment will keep hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful pollutants out of the air we breathe, and help create green job opportunities that will reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency."
But coal state politicians continue to insist all is well. Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston (WV) Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog has a must-read post on West Virginia politicians denying the reality of coal's decline:
Never mind that a handful of West Virginia counties account for the vast majority of the state’s coal production, while at the same time being home to a very small share of our population. Or that many of those same counties areamong the poorest in West Virginia. Or that coal is a very small share of West Virginia’s gross state product. [...]

As so often seems to happen with coal, though, the answer to that is not to follow the law, but to try to change it. And that’s what Sen. Rockefeller is trying to do with his legislation to block EPA action. [...]

[Rockefeller] oddly refers to EPA’s “rush to regulate” greenhouse gases. Rush to regulate? Seriously?

Come June, it will have been 23 years since Dr. James Hansen warned Congress that global warming was already underway … and with a GOP-controlled House, does Sen. Rockefeller really believe there’s much chance of a comprehensive climate change bill becoming law — or would the success of his EPA-blocking legislation just be a way to again protect coal from having to "embrace the future"?
My only question is, why won't politicians like Barack Obama, Tim Kaine & Mark Warner level with voters that the age of coal is ending? Instead, we get lots of empty rhetoric about how "clean" coal will someday appear out of thin air. Do they really think voters can't handle the truth?
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