Counting the True Cost of Coal

Obviously being a native West Virginian and living in the state, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.  Ars Technica does a wonderful job of summing up a bit of research presented last month at American Association for the Advancement of Science last month.  Here are the bullet points: an estimated 20-30 atomic bombs worth of energy each year to get at the coal; 500 mountain peaks gone; 2,000 miles of streams gone; and the ‘extra’ cost including medical impacts, environmental impacts, and social impacts effectively doubles the energy cost of coal.   There are clear place in these studies to challenge assumptions that arrived at the extra cost of coal.  However, I think its an interesting geographic question to move beyond the cost of raw materials to look at the impacts of surrounding areas.  We don’t tend to think much about our electricity beyond the socket in our wall.  That’s not to say I think coal is evil, nor do I think it’s completely benign.  It’s complicated and any research that can get us to think about the messy state of electricity generation in the US is beneficial research in my book.\

Photo courtesy of DanaK~WaterPenny via Flickr