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Electricity from coal empowers Colorado

Tilman M. Bishop

Few issues directly impact Coloradoans more than energy costs and economic development. As a former legislator for Colorado, staying informed about energy-related information was critical to performing my job and staying abreast of the interests of Colorado families. I continue to be concerned and interested in the future for Colorado’s economy and use of our coal resources

For years, we’ve known that access to affordable, reliable electricity from coal is important to Colorado’s economy. But until recently, we just didn’t know how important. Nationally, we depend on coal to provide 52 percent of our country’s electricity. Statewide, this percentage rises dramatically, with Coloradoans depending on more than 80 percent of their electricity generated from coal.

A new study conducted by researchers at Penn State University looked at both the direct and indirect economic advantages of using domestic coal reserves to generate electricity. The economic advantages associated with the mining of coal in Colorado are well-known to most people, but more surprising is the benefit the state’s economy realizes from having access to low-cost electricity generated using coal.

By relying upon energy forecasts provided by the federal government and other energy experts, the researchers at Penn State have provided a greater understanding of how coal-based electricity empowers Colorado’s economy. Their study shows that access to affordable electricity generated using coal will be responsible for as much $9.6 billion in increased household income and 277,000 Colorado jobs in the year 2010. That’s more high-paying jobs in the state and more money in the pockets of Colorado families.

But Colorado’s economic advantage could be put at risk if environmental regulations aimed at reducing the use of American coal for producing electricity are enacted. Colorado’s working families don’t have to choose between affordable, reliable electricity and a clean environment. Thanks to an abundance of coal and the technology to use it cleanly, we can have both.

Technological advances have dramatically reduced coal-based power emissions over the years. In fact, clean coal technologies have advanced to the point where engineers and energy experts estimate that by the year 2020, we will be able to produce emission-free electricity from coal. With a 250-year domestic supply, we would be foolish to remove coal from our energy mix.

Moreover, Colorado’s electricity generating plants have the seventh-cleanest emissions rate in the nation, with a goal to be No. 1. Over the 10-year period, 1989-1998, total criteria air pollutants, those pollutants affecting human health, in the state decreased by 16 percent, despite a 20 percent increase in population, a 63 percent increase in the gross state product and a 21 percent increase in electricity generation.

Further emission reductions are expected with the implementation of Phase II of the 1990 Clean Air Act, requiring environmental technologies to be used at three Denver-area electric power stations.

Nationally, over the years, $50 billion has been invested by utilities to make electricity from coal cleaner and more efficient. The results have been impressive – criteria air pollutants in 1999 were a full 31 percent below 1970 levels, despite a 133 percent increase in consumption of electricity from coal. By 2015, emissions of major pollutants are expected to be 50 percent lower than they were in 1970.

As a fuel source for producing electricity, coal costs about half as much as natural gas. Moreover, nuclear and hydroelectric power are being scaled back as a result of environmental concerns.

Judging from gasoline prices, we know that increasing our reliance on foreign oil for electricity production would be prohibitively expensive and a significant national security risk. Although renewable energies such as wind and solar power are being pursued, they are not yet commercially viable for base load capacity. Fortunately, coal is domestically abundant in Colorado and the United States, making it affordable and reliable.

A 250-year supply of coal coupled with ever-improving environmental technologies means that electricity from coal is well positioned to be the fuel of the future.

With electricity from coal as the foundation of our power supply, this essential, affordable and increasingly clean energy source is and can continue to be the bedrock of Colorado’s economic prosperity.

Tilman Bishop of Grand Junction served in the state Legislature for 28 years, from 1971 to 1998. He was a member of The Energy Council, an international organization dedicated to energy issues.


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