Obama un­der­mines coal

It’s lights out for grow­ing num­ber of power plants

The Washington Times Daily - - Opin­ion -

The ge­nius of the free mar­ket is that it pro­vides con­sumers with more for less. That prin­ci­ple is turned on its head in the Obama era, as Amer­i­cans face the prospect of get­ting less for more when it comes to pow­er­ing their homes and workplaces. In a poor econ­omy, that’s bad news for folks who’ve al­ready tight­ened their belts to the fi­nal hole.

Cheers went up last week from the self-pro­claimed green lobby, in­clud­ing the Sierra Club and Green­peace, as they reached a mile­stone in their quest to drive up the cost of Amer­ica’s fos­sil fu­els. On Feb. 29, two util­ity com­pa­nies an­nounced the shut­ter­ing of nine coal power plants in the East and Mid­west. That sent the num­ber of plants slated for de­ac­ti­va­tion since 2010 be­yond the cen­tury mark to 106.

Genon En­ergy said it would shut­ter seven coal plants and one oil-fired plant in Penn­syl­va­nia, Ohio and Illinois with a to­tal gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity of 3,140 megawatts. Mid­west Gen­er­a­tion fol­lowed suit with an ad­vi­sory that it would close two coal plants serv­ing Chicago.

The shut­downs rep­re­sent a vic­tory for Pres­i­dent Obama, who in a 2008 in­ter­view as a can­di­date sig­naled his in­ten­tion to run the coal in­dus­try into the ground: “So if some­body wants to build a coal-pow­ered plant, they can, it’s just that it will bank­rupt them be­cause they’re go­ing to be charged a huge sum for all that green­house gas that’s emit­ted.”

The pres­i­dent has made good on his prom­ise. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) has squeezed coal pro­duc­ers in its cam­paign to halt car­bon diox­ide, the same “green­house gas” all an­i­mals pro­duce when ex­hal­ing. In De­cem­ber, the agency an­nounced new reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing mer­cury emis­sions that will force many power plants out of busi­ness within four years.

The EPA es­ti­mates util­i­ties across the coun­try will need to shell out at least $9.4 bil­lion in 2015 to meet its new man­date, but House Repub­li­cans put the true cost at $84 bil­lion. Com­pa­nies that stay in busi­ness will have to in­stall ex­pen­sive equip­ment that will drive up con­sumers’ monthly elec­tric bills. The av­er­age re­tail price of elec­tric­ity in Amer­ica al­ready has climbed 46 per­cent since 1997, says the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (EIA).

Cleaner-burn­ing nat­u­ral gas is touted as a vi­able sub­sti­tute for coal but the tran­si­tion can’t be com­pleted overnight. In the mean­time, the na­tion’s net elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion is fall­ing, down 7.1 per­cent from 2010 to 2011, says the EIA. De­mand for elec­tric­ity is pro­jected to rise by 35 per­cent by 2035.

Green-en­ergy en­thu­si­asts look to wind­mills, so­lar pan­els and vegetable oil to save the day, but th­ese trendy en­ergy sources com­bined gen­er­ate less than 5 per­cent of the na­tion’s en­ergy — de­spite bil­lions in sub­si­dies. The net re­sult of this pol­icy could be elec­tric­ity short­falls when us­age peaks in the sum­mer. The en­ergy brain trust has a rem­edy: Mil­lions of homes across the coun­try have been equipped with “smart me­ters” that can be in­structed to hold back the juice. Brownouts might dim the fu­ture as Amer­i­cans in the Age of Obama learn to get by with less.

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