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A Risky Proposition: A Union of Concerned Scientists Report
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by Paul Wilson | 2011

A new report from the UCS show the risky financial future of retro-fitting old coal power plants.

Barbara Freese, author of “Coal: A Human History” (2003, Perseus Publishing) is now a senior policy analyst/advocate at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Climate and Energy Program, and in the Spring 2011 edition of the UCS Catalyst publication she introduced her new UCS report.

The UCS report, A Risky Proposition: The Financial Hazards of New Investments in Coal Plants, shows that changes in the economic fundamentals of power generation could make major retrofits a losing gamble from a financial perspective, as well as for the planet’s climate as today’s pollution controls do not capture heat-trapping carbon emissions.

The report details the many factors that make coal a risky investment. Such factors include aging power plants, 72 percent of which are more than 30 years old and 40 percent that are over 40 years old. Also, 29 states and the District of Columbia have standards requiring utilities to obtain a growing percentage of the power they sell from renewable energy sources, plus ratepayer funded efficiency programs and natural gas-fired power plants have lessened demand for coal.

There have also been rising costs of coal production and higher costs of power plant construction and operation. The costs of building new coal plants doubled between 2000 and 2008 and have remained high despite the current recession. Pollution control costs have also risen, which makes banks and creditors wary of lending large sums for coal-related projects.

Ms. Freese’s Catalyst article also has a side bar on the damage done to our communities. Damages we have seen here in West Virginia all too frequently: the increased health costs of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide as well as mercury and coal ash. And there are fish kills and effects on our native waters from vast quantities of water withdrawals.

We cannot afford to let history repeat itself — we went this way in the 1970s when over-building of power plants resulted in the cancellation of 100 nuclear plants and 80 coal plants after years of expenditures. This timely report shows that continued investment in coal powered plants is a risky proposition, whether you live on Wall Street or Main Street, or on the back 40.

The A Risky Proposition report and more information on clean energy alternatives are at:  

Back issues of the UCS Catalyst publication can be found at:

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