Beyond Coal

The Coal Bailout Nobody is Talking About

"If you are reading this blog, chances are you are either an energy economist, grid geek, or maybe my mother. Regardless, this administration seems intent on trying various coal bailout attempts. Hopefully, you’ve already read up on the high costs and low benefits to such bailouts, how the first attempt failed, and how they’re at it again. My latest research has uncovered that every month, millions of consumers are unwittingly bailing out coal-fired power plants to the tune of over a billion dollars a year."

Honestly, I don't quite understand this article. I've been involved with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign for maybe three years, and the term "regulated monopoly" seems to be an oxymoron. The "expensive" power plants have scrubbers to filter out the sulfer dioxide. The "cheaper" plants do not.  So the monopolies do their best to run the cheaper plants, which are older plants approaching the end of their lifespans. And they will do everything in their power to get around environmental regulations. Major hand-waving as JMG might say toavoid the regulations.

Went to yet another Illinois-EPA hearing last week regarding a local power plant which has been operating without a permit for at least EIGHT YEARS!  In no sense does this article take into account the externalites of people sickened by air pollution and waterways threatened by the (mis)management of coal ash ponds. Nor does it take into account the people-hours that state and federal EPA agencies accumulative dealing with the monopolies' corporate lawyers.

The three IL-EPA agents who were taking comments/testimony from local citizens were obviously embarassed to be there. We all started feeling sorry for them, I think, and a number of people went up after the hearing to let them know that we were sympathetic and not holding them personally responsible for this shit.

And the monopolies continue to get away with murder, because they provide union jobs and taxes in struggling communities.

David Trammel's picture

Sophie, I read the article and maybe I can help you understand it.

Yes, the writer didn't address pollution or coal ash. It wasn't meant to. That's not to mean those issues aren't important, just outside of the subject he was writing about.

Instead the writer was just looking at the cost to consumers, and how when a single company is the only game in town, they can make decisions that benefit them and not the consumer.

His point was that when power producers who have a regulated monopoly, like my local electric company does, aka they are the ones who bill me for power, can self set the price I pay. If that power is generated by a power plant they own, even if the cost of producing that electricity is higher than the market price, then they are allowed to charge me more for it.

If the electric company doesn't run that coal fired plant, then they must buy the electricity from someone else. If they can make a bigger profit by over charging me for that coal fired plant's electricity, then they will.

As an example, suppose there was only one company supplying gasoline in Peoria. They could set what ever price they wanted. Even if the local government could pass laws that would regulate the gas company some, as long as they could make the case of "hey, we built all these gas stations, so we need to recover the cost!" they get a unspoken subsidy from the consumer.

If another gasoline company wants to compete in Peoria, they have to build their own network of gas stations OR the government must allow those local gas stations to buy from either company.

Does that help.

Ah, all right, I see what you're saying. But most of Illinois does not buy directly from a power plant. "Along with facilitating open-access to transmission, ISOs operate the transmission system independently of, and foster competition for electricity generation among, wholesale market participants." We purchase from MISO--Midcontinent--and the power we purchase could come from coal, nukes, wind, or solar. Our local polluters want bailouts, so they can provide excess capacity--"just in case..." Dirty coal plants are cheaper to operate than "cleaner" plants. and they are older, so most of them are nearing the ends of their useful lives. What we have, for all intents and purposes, are hostage situations: give us mo' money and ix-nay on the pollution controls, or we will just go ahead and shut down these dirty plants, firing a whole lot of well-paid union workers and wrecking the budgets of counties and small towns that depend on tax money from the plants. And sticking EPA Superfunds and local communities with the cost of cleaning up the plant sites.

If you put solar panels on your roof here, the power generated would go into the the grid, and you would get credit on your utility bill. There is a community solar project in the works here, and people will be able to subscribe to the project and receive credit on their utility bills. And the utilities are part of my rent here, but I believe that currently utility users can specify that they want part of their power from renewable sources.

I confess that listening to all technical gabble makes my eyes roll up into my head. I'm a foot soldier in the struggle. Give me a ride to the hearing--whatever it is--and I'll show up and add my bit of testimony

Blueberry's picture

So we go with dirty coal or nukes, the nukes will need cooling ponds for 50 plus years to control the spent fuel rods from going full blown kill off of the planet. I vote for coal life sucks!!!!!!

David Trammel's picture

A while back, I came across this article:

It talks about how the inaction on climate change has reached the point where we may be forced to decide on the lesser of two evils, just to survive. And it may be that to provide electricity to cool us from heat waves using dirty coal or nuclear power or allow thousands to die heat related deaths may be the argument.

Here is a further article on adapt or die.

“If some of the more extreme scenarios of ecocrisis turn out to be accurate, we in the West will be forced to confront such transformations,” wrote Gosling, an anthropologist who’d just retired from the University of Exeter in England.

Almost two years later, as the U.S. stumbles through a second consecutive season of record hurricanes and fires, more academics are approaching questions once reserved for doomsday cults. Can modern society prepare for a world in which global warming threatens large-scale social, economic, and political upheaval? What are the policy and social implications of rapid, and mostly unpleasant, climate disruption?"

Blueberry's picture

Wow what can I say! Be kind to family and friends.