Colorado should favor renewables over coal |

Colorado should favor renewables over coal

Jeremy Heiman

Dear Editor,

I think you guys ran another op-ed pushing clean coal just to tweak the greenies. But the piece by Jim Evans that ran in Tuesday’s paper didn’t have any more substance than the one by Tilman Bishop that ran in the PI in May.

It’s well known that Colorado is amply endowed with coal reserves and that we’re using them liberally. And yes, a lot of tax money has been spent to reduce the sulfur compounds and other criteria pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants in the state.

But “clean coal” technology, a mildly amusing oxymoron at best, won’t eliminate acid mine drainage, black lung, or fatal methane explosions. And clean coal won’t produce any less carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming, than dirty coal does.

Evans makes the claim that “electricity from coal is our most abundant and affordable energy source.” But guess what? Wind is more abundant, and some estimates indicate that electricity from wind may cost as little as two cents per kilowatt-hour by 2005. Moreover, coal wouldn’t be as cheap as it seems if it weren’t for tax-funded coal subsidies, and if the coal industry had to pay for the societal costs of pollution and global change.

Energy technologies, such as fuel cells, gas-fired microturbines, and photovoltaic panels located close to the power consumer, also have economic advantages over coal. Giant, centralized coal plants can’t provide the reliability or the quality of power that is demanded by high tech businesses and digital equipment. This is because the centralized plants depend on the grid, the relatively unreliable network of electric transmission lines and equipment needed to get electricity to the user.

Smaller, cleaner power sources also have an advantage in the economics of financing. Capital markets are attracted to the lower risk of financing smaller power sources, while they are choking on the ultra-long-term financing packages required by giant coal and nuclear plants. For much more information on why small, clean power sources are more economical than giant fossil-fueled plants, visit

Evans writes that a balance must be struck “between protecting our environment and providing for continued economic growth and prosperity.” But taxpayer subsidies for fossil and nuclear energy called for in the Bush/Cheney/Enron energy bill could be better spent. Economist Edward U. Ayers writes, “If those dollars were really spent on the projects that have provided the greatest performance gains per dollar spent, they’d be spent on conservation technologies, wind turbines, and photovoltaic [solar] power.

A study by the Tellus Institute last year indicates that energy efficiency policies and development of renewable resources such as wind and solar could result in over 700,000 new jobs nationwide by 2010 and 1.3 million new jobs by 2020. Colorado presumably could have a share of that bounty if the state doesn’t continue looking backward to coal.

Jeremy Heiman

Glenwood Springs

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