Coal Is Making a Comeback, and Nobody Burns it Like Texas

Categories: Environment

martinlake.jpg
For a time, coal was moribund, on life support. We thought perhaps the country was permanently shrugging off its dependence on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Coal-fired power plants were being mothballed en masse. The share of electricity generated by them fell 25 percent between 2005 and 2012.

This was, depending on your political affiliation, either because the EPA was out to drive a stake through coal's black, black hear or, as most financial wonks opined, because it simply couldn't compete with cheap, overabundant natural gas. Either way, power-plant emissions fell, due in no small part to the fact that natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide.

After seeing the latest numbers on coal-fired generation, it looks like the wonks win and air breathers lose. Natural gas prices are slowly rebounding, and coal is making a comeback. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a nearly 9-percent increase in electricity generated from coal this year. And with coal comes carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas. The output of carbon dioxide has steadily declined for years, but those levels are predicted to rise in 2013, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project.

Carbon dioxide emissions from power generation rose more than 7 percent during the first quarter of 2013 compared to the previous year. And since everything is allegedly bigger in Texas, including our pollution, we're naturally at the top of the pile. With more than 250 million tons of carbon dioxide released from Texas power plants in 2012, the state doubles the total of Florida, the runner up.

In another dubious distinction, the Martin Lake plant in Rusk County -- owned by Dallas-based Luminant -- was the seventh-highest carbon-dioxide emitting coal-fired plant in the country. To be fair, it's also humongous, capable of powering, according to Luminant, more than a million homes under normal conditions.

Less dubious is the seven-fold increase in wind power Texas has seen since 2005, with another 30 percent projected by 2014.

It's an interesting cycle Texas finds itself locked into. Hydraulic fracturing unleashed a vast store of natural gas, flooded the market and depressed the price. Power-plant demand for cheap natural gas increased and producers eased up on the drilling because prices weren't break-even. Meanwhile, coal lost market share. Now, prices are rebounding, natural gas is slightly less attractive to the power sector and coal is on its way back.

It's easy to see this cycle perpetuated endlessly. Until, that is, EPA regulations begin to exact a price for atmospheric dumping, the way a landfill charges a tipping fee.


Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
Americano
Americano

Try plugging in your "environmentally safe" electric car without these plants.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Funny, I thought lefties liked diversity.  In this case, diversity in what fuels we use to generate electricity.


Generally, it is a good idea to be able to pivot between fuels. 

mcdallas
mcdallas

This is all part of the WAR ON CHRISTMAS!  They are just trying to drive up the cost of coal so that Santa will go bankrupt in trying to give D.O. readers his annual gift.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

And in the mean time I believe they are still predicting brown outs and rolling blackouts this summer due to an inadequate power grid.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

It's an interesting cycle Texas finds itself locked into. Hydraulic fracturing unleashed a vast store of natural gas, flooded the market and depressed the price. Power-plant demand for cheap natural gas increased and producers eased up on the drilling because prices weren't break-even. Meanwhile, coal lost market share. Now, prices are rebounding, natural gas is slightly less attractive to the power sector, and coal is on its way back.

That's pretty much basic economics.  The invisible hand will move the prices up and down until equilibrium is reached, and then new technology (like the improved fracking) will upset the balance and require a little time to shake out.  It's natural and much more efficient than the government sticking its finger on the scale.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

I'm not so worried about "The invisible hand" as I am about all of the invisible hands behind "The  invisible hand".

brantley.hargrove1
brantley.hargrove1

@Tim.Covington Interesting. So they aren't saying that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste itself, but that its method of storage introduces more radiation into the environment than properly stored nuclear waste. Either way, coal ash is nasty stuff. I was working in Tennessee when that TVA ash pond broke and the slurry knocked houses off of their foundations. The place looked like a moonscape. 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Sure. That is always what happens when the elected officials have that kind of power.

That's why I don't want them to have that much power.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @TheCredibleHulk 

Unfortunately, in the real world the invisible hand is regularly and routinely guided and directed by private interests and facilitated by the very officials we elect.

It's how things get done.

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...