Carbon Emissions

The US is known as “The Saudi Arabia of Coal”. We have massive amounts of coal deposits within our borders.

If you look at photos of Dubai with all the skyscrapers and massive construction or read about Russia, likely the most expensive place to live today in the entire world, you see countries whose economies and wealth are being buoyed by commodity wealth. While there are also downsides to riding on commodities, there are positive instances of well run countries (i.e. the UK with North Sea gas and oil) benefiting from their commodity wealth.

The US has basically stopped building coal plants due to environmental concerns. Sure, there are a few coal plants being built here and there (I profile an Illinois coal plant under construction at this post) but the energy is basically dead in its tracks. According to this excellent analysis (which I highly recommend reading in full) from the National Energy Technology Laboratory, here is a summary:

“Actual plant capacity, commissioned since 2000, has been far less than new capacity announced; the year 2002 report of announcements reflected a schedule of over 36,000 MW to be installed by 2007, whereas ≈ 4,500 MW (12%) were achieved. The trend over several years has reflected the bulk of power plant developments shifting out in time due to project delays Delays and cancellations have been attributed to regulatory uncertainty (regarding climate change) or strained project economics due to escalating costs in the industry.”

Beyond typical NIMBY activities and our broken deregulation system, a key factor stopping construction of new plants are the emissions and ties to warming by environmental groups.

However, this recent article by the BBC (a fairly reliable source, historically) says that China is now the world’s top carbon polluter, and probably passed the USA back in 2006-7. China, of course, has no problem whatsoever in putting up coal plants and sensibly (from an economic perspective) utilizes coal heavily since they have their own deposits and don’t have to import fuel, while coal is also a proven technology for power generation. There are various accounts of their coal construction but I continuously see the reference to “a plant a week” but I would have to do more research to verify those claims; in any case many sources point to a massive construction boom of coal plants in China.

Given that warming is supposed to be a world wide phenomenon, why does it make sense for the US to use expensive imported fuel (we are moving to natural gas for almost all of our recent generation, and starting to import natural gas through LNG terminals) or tap all of our natural gas which is needed for residential heating (and whose price has gone up significantly, pinching many home owners and renters during winter in recent years), rather than build coal plants? Our newest coal technologies, while not “clean” coal, are certainly far cleaner than the average plant in China (their newest plants are probably pretty clean, but their overall fleet on average is likely far dirtier because coal “scrubbing” technology is expensive), so nothing is accomplished except for high prices locally which run through everyone’s pocket who tries to heat their home as well as pricing energy-intensive industry out fo the market.

Not investing in coal plants will indisputably make the US a poorer country in the future, as higher energy prices (all the other technologies except for the hated nuclear and hydro plants are more expensive on the margin than coal) for other alternatives make industry in the US less competitive and pull away money that would otherwise be available for consumer spending.

All this for what? So that we reach the same end state, because China is burning what they have, and what they have is lots of coal. They already passed us in emissions and it will just soar from here.

Cross posted at LITGM

6 thoughts on “Carbon Emissions”

  1. The saddest thing about this energy problem is that we have the technology to produce electricity from coal at pollution rates that are comparable to the cleanest oil and gas burning plants. And as you point out, we have tons of the stuff. And even better, it’s in sparsely populated areas of the country. Strip mining a few square miles of the upper Mid-West is far preferable to sticking wind-powered generators all over the populated northeast. If you drive through the Altamont pass in Northern California you will appreciate the kind of visible and aural pollution those huge fans produce. And solar is perhaps worse!

  2. Raising energy cost here also drives jobs out of the country. Blocking a clean coal plant here raises the cost of electricity and makes it more economical to due the manufacturing overseas. The jobs get moved to a place with abundant but polluting power.

    It makes everything worse. We lose jobs and industry while increasing pollution. Greens are morons.

  3. It’s interesting to compare the attitudes of the old Left and the present-day Left on energy. Both for the New Deal Democrats and the Stalinist Marxists, hydroelectric dams were items of great national pride. For the present-day Left, they are mostly things to be avoided and eliminated, even though they are the only form of renewable energy production that exists at a large scale.

    Some have argued that changes like this reflect a tactical shift of the Left: “we lost the economic argument, so now let’s focus on aesthetics.” While there’s some truth in this, I also suspect that the kind of people attracted to the modern Left are different from the kind of people attracted to the old Left.

  4. Pardon me for being such a mean hater, but in a certain sense this posting is crap. The greens/environmentalists/leftists continually advocate policies that harm the United States and fail to advance their stated goals- a cleaner world environment, world peace, etc. In this case their actions are 1) hamstringing the future growth of US economy and 2) vastly increasing the amount of pollution that will be emitted into the atmosphere.

    Why should I not believe that their true goal isn’t 1) and that 2) is really just collateral damage that is a matter of indifference?

    Greens are morons? No, greens are traitors.

  5. Hmm… I don’t know if I understand your comment Xennady.

    I was pointing out that their idiotic policies don’t accomplish any of their goals and do make the US poorer. If WE built things here and had our own (relatively) cleaner plants here and didn’t buy from China, the world would be net ahead on greenhouse gases. I am not saying that is a big worry of mine, but if it was, these policies don’t work.

    I am not in a position to conjecture whether or not this is enough to make them traitors… they are like this in Europe and elsewhere, as well (making their countries lives difficult to no good end).

  6. Carl,
    You write that their idiotic policies don’t accomplish any of their goals and make the US poorer.

    Absolutely. Yet they continue to advocate these policies no matter what damage they do and no matter how much harder they make it for the average person to pay their gas bill.

    So why would you assume their goals are what they say they are? If their goal was to weaken and impoverish the US do think they would say so publicly? And no, I don’t think these folks are stupid in the classical sense.

    Of course energy policy isn’t the only example of this or even the best, but that’s the subject you wrote about here.

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