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National Review Online

 

Coal in Your Stocking

November 03, 2008

By Max Schulz

Give Barack Obama credit for one thing. When it comes to global warming and coal, he exhibited extraordinary candor about the economic pain his proposals would cause. Unfortunately for John McCain's prospects, Obama's candor was kept hidden for the better part of the year. It wasn't until late Sunday evening that word surfaced of Obama's extremely impolitic comments to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board last January. Had they been well known before the last, dying gasps of a seemingly interminable campaign, the McCain team might have been able to gain real traction in key battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Lucky for Obama, the Chronicle editors inexplicably failed to publicize Obama's revelations.

Give Barack Obama credit for one thing. When it comes to global warming and coal, he exhibited extraordinary candor about the economic pain his proposals would cause. Unfortunately for John McCain's prospects, Obama's candor was kept hidden for the better part of the year. It wasn't until late Sunday evening that word surfaced of Obama's extremely impolitic comments to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board last January. Had they been well known before the last, dying gasps of a seemingly interminable campaign, the McCain team might have been able to gain real traction in key battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Lucky for Obama, the Chronicle editors inexplicably failed to publicize Obama's revelations.

In the January editorial-board meeting, Obama made two stunning comments about the costs of his cap-and-trade proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions. First, he said, "If somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can—it's just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted." He mentioned that existing coal plants will have to retrofit their operations. "That will cost money," Obama said. "They will pass that money on to consumers."

He followed that up with an even more damning pronouncement: "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." Electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket—it's the 21st-century equivalent of Walter Mondale’s 1984 debate promise to raise taxes.

Voters rarely want to hear that their costs will go up. That's why the Left couches its pro-regulation arguments about countering global warming in terms that avoid the immediate economic hit consumers will face. Or eco-pleaders will play up fuzzy notions about supposed economic benefits, such as the growth of so-called "green jobs," while avoiding strict cost-benefits analysis.

The reality is a lot closer to what Obama revealed in San Francisco. Costs for consumers will skyrocket. Coal is one of the cheapest sources of baseload power, cheaper than renewable technologies like wind and solar by orders of magnitude. Plus, it can provide reliable supplies, while power from windmills and solar panels is intermittent.

Obama promises that his cap-and-trade plan would shut down the industry that provides half the nation's electricity. Running mate Joe Biden signaled similar sentiments in a rope-line gaffe a few weeks ago, when he pledged "no coal plants here in America" (despite the campaign's official support for "clean coal" technology like carbon sequestration).

It's unclear how Senators Obama and Biden would replace that lost power if we bankrupted the coal industry and closed down its plants. According to the government's Energy Information Administration, the U.S. has nearly 750 coal-fired generators with a capacity of over 100 megawatts (MW). More than 200 of these coal plants have a capacity of over 500 MW. The country has 53 coal-fired generators that can

By comparison, the world’s largest solar facility, located in the Mojave Desert, needs nine large solar plants covering 1600 acres to produce a total of 354 MW of power. That's an average of slightly less than 40 MW per plant, and comes with an enormous environmental footprint. Wind farms are little better, requiring humongous tracts of land to provide relatively small amounts of energy.

Realists who take a hard look at those numbers will realize that we can’t do easily without coal. Yet common sense is often lost in energy debates, which are too often dominated by the pleadings of environmental groups insisting we switch away from fossil fuels and nuclear power and instead embrace clean alternatives. It sounds fanciful because it is.

It's not as if we haven't tried the alternative energies favored by the Greens. And it's not as if we haven’t given them boosts with favorable tax policies, direct subsidies, and even mandates to employ them. The fact is that their inherent limitations have kept renewables from gaining a significant foothold in the energy economy. The inability to substitute for more traditional sources of power means that the so-called "alternatives" are hardly an alternative at all.

Perhaps in time we will learn the San Francisco Chronicle's rationale for sitting on Obama's explosive comments instead of publishing them in January. The revelation of those comments Sunday night has given John McCain and Sarah Palin a small window of time to capitalize. They are trying these last two days to impress on voters that an Obama-Biden victory would mean bad news for coal-producing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. More than that, however, an Obama win would be bad news for coal-consuming states, i.e., those that get a huge share of their electricity from coal or that house energy-intensive industries. And that's most of the country. Skyrocketing energy costs won't just hurt coal miners. They’ll hurt everybody.

Original Source: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MWFkMTM2MTIwMzc1NjJjNGEyYjM1Mzk1YWQ4YjM2MDI=

 

 
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