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