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Underdog gaining ground in Solar vs. Coal showdown

Avatar for Dave Llorens
Published on 10/14/2007 in
Updated 12/30/2014

This past Tuesday, American Electric Power Company agreed to a $4.6 billion settlement over pollution controls at its power plants. The company will also have to shell out $15M in civil penalties and $60M in cleanup and mitigation costs.

For the same price of cleanup and settlement costs, you could build 18.7 concentrating solar power plants, like the Nevada Solar One plant (pictured above) that went online earlier this year. 18.7 of those things could generate more than 1,196 megawatts – but without the additional carbon, natural capital and other pollution costs attributed to coal generation.

In fact, while a 1,600 MW coal-fired plant could run you about $2.9 billion upfront (based on the cost of Peabody Energy Corp’s new coal-fired power plant in Southern Illinois), the CO2 bill for an estimated 40-year lifespan will run more than the initial construction costs.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a typical coal plant generates 3.7 million tons of CO2 per year. Based on the December, 2008 contract price on the Chicago Climate Exchange of $22.88 per ton of CO2, you’re looking at a bill of $84,656,000 per year.

Multiply that by 40 years, and we can go ahead and tack on another $3,386,240,000 onto that original $2.9 billion price tag…giving us a new total of $6,286,240,000.

Now for $6,286,240,000, you can get either a dirty, 1,600MW coal-burning plant that will continue to be nickel and dimed for decades to come, or a 1,600MW concentrating solar power plant, 25 times the size of the most recent Nevada Solar One plant, in the middle of the desert, without NIMBY issues, but near transmission lines…and still have about $36,240,000 leftover.

And by the way, that $6.4 billion for the coal-fired plant is still being extremely generous.

There are a few more issues that still aren’t being accounted for.

For instance, a typical 500MW coal plant:

• Draws about 2.2 billion gallons of water each year from nearby
lakes, rivers and oceans. (That’s enough water to support a city of approximately 250,000 people)
• Generates 170 pounds of mercury. And it only takes 1/70th of a
teaspoon in a 25-acre lake to make fish unsafe to eat. Enjoy that
freshly-caught trout on your next fly fishing trip!
• Relies on the transportation of coal. A cost that will continue
increase as the price of oil increases. Funny how the two of these
things can not only screw us, but each other as well.

Thanks to Jeff Siegel of desert-rock-blog.com for the majority of the figures in this post

Last modified: December 30, 2014

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David CopenskyEEnerEcoEEnerEco3PhaseFred Mars Recent comment authors
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David Copensky
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David Copensky

Solar is not the answer. Read Time March 9, 2015 Desert Sunlight and create a spreadsheet. To supply electricity to all America homes requires more that 2.5 times the land in the USA. That does not include electricity for business and industry.

EEnerEco
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EEnerEco

This American Energy company could be missing the facts here! After reading your article they can get a clear picture that solar energy is the goal!!!!!!!!…….

EEnerEco
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EEnerEco

Oh, this American energy compony doesn’t know about the facts….

EEnerEco
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EEnerEco

Give me a break What’s the deal with this coal thing?

3Phase
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3Phase

I feel I have a unique and fair view into this debate having furthered research and efficiency in both fields of power generation. I am an electrical engineer and I have participated in a number of cutting edge solar research projects at universities (most funded by power companies). On the other hand I currently work as an electrical engineer in fossil generation for a power company increasing the efficiency and longevity of coal plants. I couldn’t resist commenting on this post which is actually part of a larger article with the rambling omitted. There is no doubt that coal will… Read more »

Fred Mars
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Fred Mars

Combining solar and wind on the residential and business level will do more to make us all energy independent. We need to stop thinking of energy has something we buy and start looking at energy as something we create ourselves. Those diesel/electric locomotives that deliver the coal to all those power plants, are missing the one component that can reduce the cost of transportation, and that is the storage cells. Hybrid electric vehicles need to be re thought also. Having full-time electric drive with storage cells for electric will reduce the need for the fuel burning power generation. Adding solar/wind… Read more »

Ray
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Ray

Water needs to be a bigger part of the discussion. That is one of the next big crisis here in the west.

Great post!

Hubert
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Hubert

Drilling for natural resources in our country would provide clean burning natural gas for our energy needs. While well-heeled envirofascists push their agenda, we wait for Venezuela and Iran to tell us what to do.

Uncle B
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Uncle B

Funny how kernel capital and a proven operating system is always the easy way out. Hitler kept pushing into Russia and we keep pushing coal. The people in control are blind. The voters think only on a personal inward looking level. The politicians work on ‘grease’ We are doomed!

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