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'Simple Laws of Economics' Doom Remaining US Coal Plants as Solar and Wind Are Now Cheaper for American Households

'Simple Laws of Economics' Doom Remaining US Coal Plants as Solar and Wind Are Now Cheaper for American Households

Julia Conley, staff writer

In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions, and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.

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Well, not to be too picky, but the economics of non-market impacts have been well established for a very long time too. AC Pigou, Karl William Kapp, Otto Neurath all discussed this stuff at length over a century ago now. Since markets are missing lots of information, I can tell you with complete certainty that renewable energy was cheaper than coal, oil and natural gas far before the market said it was. This just makes what was obvious decades ago apparent to those that only look at market information. People need to realize this and keep this in mind, markets are missing lots of information. We are in this pickle because of that. But, good news none the less.

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Coal boilers cost $1/Watt (thermal). That makes coal prohibitive even if coal is purchased, transported, and burned at zero cost.

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Have I offered you the graphic of a government with a facet that includes externalities and public goods?

Let’s put it together pronto

https://www.autonomousdemocracy.org/Contents/website-contents.html

I have used solar for many years and love it!

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I wish the outlook was as rosy as this article makes it sound: India and China are still burning big coal.

China is building coal-fired plants in many countries, fewer at home. By the hundreds. They burn ‘cleaner’ coal, but damn, it’s still coal, yo.

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Has this analysis allowed for the subsidies now given to wind and solar? Has it included the cost of energy storage required due to the intermittent nature of these renewables? Or does it anticipate the need for coal, nuclear, or other fuel-driven plants to stay in operation so that the renewable sources can feed into a grid? Has it considered the cost and difficulty of energy transmission from areas favorable to renewable sources to those less favorable? Has it considered the land costs and the impact on residents and real estate values next to extensive wind farms and huge solar arrays? If a significant fraction of electric power in this country were generated by renewables, what percentage of the land would be covered by such installations? What is the impact on wilderness and animal life, for example birds in the case of wind farms? Who will maintain large arrays of solar panels, particularly in wintertime with snow removal a priority? Without taking into considerations such as these, the analysis in this article may seem more rosy than warranted.

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The rapidy decreasing federal subsidies do not affect the cost comparisons with subsidized oil or gas, or coal, or the highly subsidized nuclear industry; it’s still far cheaper and continually getting less expensive. Fossil fuel plants are not needed. Wind and solar are widely distributed and are not a problem for transmission. On the contrary, these renewables can be set up in various local areas to cut down the need for long distance transmission. Contrary to diacad’s belief, the sun shines everywhere, and the wind blows everywhere, unlike gas, oil and coal deposits which are located in specific areas. Whatever the benefits or problems, there are no toxins released, no trucking issues, no pipleines, no bomb trains and no mountains destroyed, no leaks and no explosions. The owners of these installations will hire service people to do maintenence, and there are more people now working in the renewable industry right now than in the fossil fuel industry. And since solar panels are black, the sun melts the snow and it falls off on it’s own. I see that with my own eyes, whever it snows.

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Looks more and more that this whole thing is gonna sort itself out without the Gubmint ramming some kind of economy cratering Green Deal down people’s throats.

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To me it has become a sharp indicator of precisely how contorted and dissociative the US government is when the sheer profitability of the transition from fossilized visions of industry to sustainable, regenerative reconstruction can be dragged through the mucking suck of dependency. This is a Koch addiction version of neoteny. Dead in the water - and they don’t know how to swim; scorn those who teach them and prefer to sink rather than evolve from narcissism of legacy advantages by disadvantaging others. The smug scorn of “there is no other way” needs to be shed like snakeskin.

Boy, is that incentive to dig in and recreate!

In a completely separate vein for these wearisome days… for any interested in fables for adults for bedtime, a good chuckle and dreams… to accompany the simple laws of economics
Tales of the Dervishes - a compilation by Idres Shah for download

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The US’s willingness to prop up industry which is economically not viable, such as the nuclear power industry, makes this whole story basically wrong. While it may be true that solar and wind are cheaper, Nuclear energy costs thousands of times as much per kilowatt hour, and has been constantly proposed as a viable alternative to coal. With nuclear power the government must build the plant at a cost of many billions, (no energy company would), then babysit the waste for a hundred thousand years, using technology not yet developed., technology which if left undeveloped by the government, ultimately leads to Armageddon.This is by far more expensive than any other form of energy and is increasingly popular. As long as the political willingness to socialize the costs of industry and privatize the profits exists, real liberal capitalist concepts do not actually apply - at all.

Take “too big to fail” banks as an example.

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I was in a conversation with @natureboy, @Trog, and @PaulSwanee1 on power/energy costs in another thread but seeing how this one is more current, I will post here. I agree that coal is close to dead (in the US anyway - as @SkepticTank points out different economics are in play in countries that don’t have as strict a (non-CO2) pollution set of requirements). However it doesn’t look like renewables can survive/thrive without subsidy or a carbon tax against the alternatives just yet.

For some quick numbers, I looked at https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=31912. This is 2017 but it’s not like there has been a revolution since then - just the same trend down probably:

First per capacity weighted average power (kW):
hydro: $580
natural gas: $696
battery storage: $864
wind: $1,661
solar PV: ~$2,800
(coal is not listed)

I doubt seriously that installed wind cost has gone below natural gas - that would be huge news. Now as to how much of the battery storage costs you have to add to the wind cost, that just isn’t obvious to me yet. I presume because the wind and solar numbers are leveled (average power), you need to (for power purposes) book another 864/kW, but what isn't clear is whether that money will buy you enough depth of storage that you can ride through a period of no-wind long enough to be able to say you have a wind + battery storage solution that competes with a natural gas plant of the some average power. Ultimately, here is where I need a /kWh estimate for a given plant at a given location that is either a) natural gas and book some accepted depreciation cost curve for the plant and how much gas costs currently, b) wind and enough battery power to be a stand along provider (no natural gas generator load filling) and whatever maintenance/depreciation is involved (no fuel input cost). The /kW number is important because we have to install a lot of renewable energy soon and the lower /power the easier the initial investment will be. But of course what a rate payer ultimately cares about is the $/kWh more.

I agree with Ralph Nader on a recent radio show where he said even a nuclear advocate he knew in the past would essentially admit defeat if solar got to within 2.5x the cost of nuclear (which he claimed it had - I don’t have the nuclear costs above but given how expensive pre GIV reactor costs have been, that would not surprise me). So in other words, I’m not requiring for renewable to be cheaper than natural gas, coal, or nuclear before I would say we’d have to give up on those other paths - but we must use real numbers to make an argument for how much more we are willing to/have to pay.

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When I was a journalist I interviewed DOE officials and got a story I could not publish for national security reasons. The purpose of proliferating nuclear reactors was for insitu weapons fabrication. Energy was the cover story. Warheads made in USA and launched from Europe at Soviet tanks was a global nuclear war. It was for our strategic safety to have those warheads made in Europe for a limited nuclear war.

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Absolutely right. That’s why we always know that when any foreign nation claims to want nuclear technology for energy purposes, we all know its for weapons manufacturing infrastructure, the same reason we do it.

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Just in time for climate chaos. Hmmm, I wonder if that’ll crater the economy?

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The kind of power reactors we have in the U.S. are useless for producing weapons-grade bomb fuel. The reactors we pushed other countries to have were U.S. designs. The UK experimented with a hybrid design (Magnox) but after producing a small amount of sub-weapons-grade plutonium for a bomb test in the U.S., they abandoned that approach to making bomb fuel. Even in the Soviet Union, where their RBMK power reactors were modeled after their plutonium production reactors, they ultimately wound up not using them to produce any bomb fuel.

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This article would have more credibility if it did not totally stonewall the intermittency and energy storage problem - the only non-fossil fuel sources not having this problem being nuclear and hydro - but the latter resource is limited and little left to develop without unacceptable river ecosystem impacts.

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I think this is a category error. Some kinds of nuclear power in some places are expensive. And there is growing interest and popular support for some kinds of nuclear. That doesn’t mean that it is the expensive kinds of nuclear which are seeing increasing popularity.

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Its more complicated. The US made weapons-grade plutonium was shipped overseas to research reactors. The power reactors were an excuse for building those research reactors. When the program shut down the weapons grade fuel at 90% purity had to be collected and shipped back. Longshoremen did not like handling gamma hot materials.

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Fossil fuels are heavily subsidized, especially by the Trillions of dollars spent on the military to steal protect the oil supplies. And nuclear is so heavily subsidized that plants would never have been built if it were left to free market forces, especially insurance. And nuclear has just the opposite problem from solar and wind - it needs a constant load. So the nuclear industry went so far as to build hydroelectric “batteries” to store power in mountaintop reservoirs so that they could recover it later (look up Northfield Mountain in western Massachusetts which was built to make Yankee Rowe usable).

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