Coal Plants and U.S. Electricity
You may wish they'd go away, but it won't be anytime soon.
There are a lot of worries about coal-fired power plants, since they pollute the air and are a significant cause of greenhouse-gas emissions. However, I did not realize just how powerful these plants are. In fact, The Energy Information Administration "reports that more than 600 coal-fired plants still produce about half of America’s power and will still produce 47% of it in 2030." A full HALF of our energy is produced from but 600 or so coal plants! So they are not going anywhere soon.
It turns out that nine coal plants were canceled this year alone in the U.S. These plants "would have provided about 6,650mw of power, or enough to heat almost 5 mil. homes." It appears that coal-plant technology is very efficient, and I can see the attraction of energy planners wanting to use them.
A typical coal power plant yields 500 megawatts, and produces 3.5 billion kilowatts over the course of a year, taking 1.43 million tons of coal to maintain this amount of electricity. It's difficult to imagine what these quantities mean, but here's something easier to wrap your mind around: 1 light bulb.
If you left your 100 watt front-porch light on 24 hrs a day, all year long, then you'd need to burn 714 pounds of coal to provide its energy. And, or course, there's the side effects of 5 lbs. of Sulfur Dioxide, and 5.1 lbs. of Nitrogen Oxide, both of which are the main causes of smog and acid rain. Also Carbon Dioxide is a cause of global warming, and your bulb would place 1,852 lbs. of that into the air as well. Even if you just turned it on, or had it on an automatic timer for an eight-hour night that's still 238 pounds of coal over the year. Electricity is renewable, but the light bulb scenario shows that the by-products of electricity by means of coal usage are not something one wants to renew.
Many people worry about what I believe is the best solution to the energy crisis, nuclear power, thinking that it is somewhat more dangerous to the environment, but such is not the case: "a coal-burning power plant emits more radiation than a (properly functioning) nuclear power plant." This is because a coal plant produces small amounts "of just about every other chemical element on the periodic table." Therefore, the cumulative effect of those radioactive elements is one more problem for coal plants and one more advantage for nuclear plants.
[image] "Utah Coal Plant" All American Patriots Website (Accessed 5/16/09)
[image] "Map of Coal-fired Power Plants in the United States" Power Magazine Oct. 15, 2008(Accessed 5/16/09)
 "Coal-fired power plants: the writing on the wall" The Economist (May 7, 2009)
 "How much coal is required to run a 100-watt light bulb 24 hours a day for a year?" HowStuffWorks (Accessed 5/9/09)