Just over a month ago I wrote a blog
about how Germany was starting to shut down fossil-fueled power plants because they were no longer cost-effective, compared to solar and wind. I pointed out all the subsidies and tax breaks that coal and oil get. A new study
is showing that we are seeing the same reduction in costs here in the U.S., much sooner than expected:
It’s less costly to get electricity from wind turbines and solar panels than coal-fired power plants when climate change costs and other health impacts are factored in, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.
In fact—using the official U.S. government estimates of health and environmental costs from burning fossil fuels—the study shows it’s cheaper to replace a typical existing coal-fired power plant with a wind turbine than to keep the old plant running. And new electricity generation from wind could be more economically efficient than natural gas.
The findings show the nation can cut carbon pollution from power plants in a cost-effective way, by replacing coal-fired generation with cleaner options like wind, solar, and natural gas.
“Burning coal is a very costly way to make electricity. There are more efficient and sustainable ways to get power,” said Dr. Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can reduce health and climate change costs while reducing the dangerous carbon pollution driving global warming.”
So yes - the fine print takes the cost of health and environmental damage from burning fossil fuels into account. Does that seem like cheating? I don't think so. When you look at buying a car, you also have to think about the amount you will likely spend on repairs, maintenance, and lost productivity (and annoyance) if it spends a lot of time in the shop. That's known as "total cost of ownership". Cars that are more reliable are worth more because they have a lower Total Cost of Ownership. The same applies here when you consider what it costs for fixing the problems that coal-powered plants create.
This was the same idea behind the cost-controls in the ACA (aka Obamacare) - reduce the Total Cost of Ownership for the healthcare system by reducing the amount of overhead (aka profit) for the healthcare insurance industry.
You may love that old jalopy that burns oil, gets 12 MPG, smells of exhaust when you turn on the heat, and has a passenger door that can only be opened from the inside, but at a certain point, you are just throwing good money after bad. It's time to retire the junkers burning all that dirty coal (that is itself dirty and dangerous to extract), and replace them with clean turbines and solar panels that generate zero emissions. It may be a few more bucks upfront, but it'll be worth it in the long run.