By shoveling restrictions on the use of coal in many of the nation’s power plants, President Obama may be running into that old cop on the beat of reality — the law of unintended consequences.
Many will be glad when some of the nation’s big coal plants curtail their output in order to lessen the amount of carbon-dioxide pollution they put into the air, especially those who suffer from pollution created in neighboring states. But the very ones who experience relief at this lessening of coal-burning may find themselves hurting from another problem — higher electricity bills.
This is because the idea that the power generated by coal can be replaced by electricity from solar or wind resources is fiction. Only natural gas can convert fuel to electricity as reliably as coal, but it is likely to be more expensive in the long run, even though natural gas, which is cleaner than coal, is plentiful and fairly cheap right now.
Robert Bryce, the author of the recent book “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” points out that only the burning of carbon-based fuels can amplify the stored energy potential in those substances. Solar and wind farms work, he says, but not anywhere near as efficiently as the burning of fossil fuels.
Only nuclear-generated power, Bryce says, has anywhere near the energy-generating potential of carbon-based fuels.
About a fifth of the nation’s electricity right now is nuclear-generated. It could be more if new plants are permitted and the waste-disposal problem is solved.
But nothing can be solved for sure as long as politicians and bureaucrats stand in the way of rational solutions.
As it is now, nearly all the carbon dioxide eliminated by the shutdown of coal-fired plants eventually will be replaced by CO2 created by burning other fuel. Even the introduction of hydrogen into the mix is likely to cause pollution because it takes electricity — presumably generated by fossil fuels — to manufacture hydrogen.
“Anyone who thinks that he is doing the world a favor by compelling the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar is consigning billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness,” writes Arthur Herman in a review of Bryce’s book in The Wall Street Journal.
The people whose power bills will be going up will be among those who learn that first hand.