Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Americans for UNbalanced Energy Choices

CNN has held a Democratic presidential candidates debate and will hold a Republican candidates debate that are each sponsored by a group with the innocuous title Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. Sounds fair enough. From the name, you would think that the group promoted all sorts of energy alternatives, such as renewables, nuclear energy, and the like, or maybe even promoted conservation. You'd be wrong.

The group is actually an "astroturf" organization, that is, an industry-funded organization that is supposed to look like a grass-roots organization. Who are the funders? Coal-based power plants, including North Carolina's own Duke Energy.

The group states its mission as:
We believe that America can continue to make great progress in improving environmental quality while at the same time enjoying the benefits of using domestic energy resources like coal to meet our growing demand for affordable, reliable and clean energy.

In a word … we believe in technology.

It's all quite touching.

The group also touts the coal-industry's success and commitment in cleaning up its plants. Of course, it doesn't mention that the technology it cites was only instralled after the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 required power plants to adopt cleaner technologies like scrubbers. It also does not mention the industry's commitment to fighting these requirements, including Duke Energy's fight all the way to the Supreme Court, where the industry lost decisively in 2006. It also doesn't mention that it's real purpose is to get more coal plants built, in many cases against local opposition.

Americans do need balanced energy choices, but this organization won't be providing them.


Wondering said...

So, what kinds of energy choices do you recommend?

David with ABEC said...

Despite the moniker, coal is not king — coal is a part of a really good army. With energy demand continuing to go up, we’re going to need all of our available domestic energy resources to help meet that demand

When people talk about alternative energy resources, they usually mean solar and wind. These are not replacements for coal. Electricity is produced in base-load power and peaking power. Base-load power is the energy necessary to keep the electricity grid energized and meet a constant demand. Peaking power is energy that comes on and off throughout the day, when electricity usage and energy demand goes up. Peaking power uses intermittent power resources like solar and wind that produce electricity only when there’s sufficient direct sunlight or sufficient sustained wind speed. For base-load power, you must use so-called hard-path fuels such as coal, which can provide power 24 hours per day.

Coal is actually quite a bit cleaner than ever before. Actually, the point of our ads is to remind people, or tell people who still harbor old opinions on the subject, that coal plants are 70% cleaner than they used to be 30 years ago.

Dave Ribar said...


Let's start with two low-cost recommendations.

A first recommendation would be to take sensible measures to conserve more, which reduces the overall need for energy. There are two sides of the energy market, and reducing the demand side (or at least reducing the growth in demand) would help.

A second recommendation addresses the supply side and that is to remove all government subsidies to electricity production from fossil fuels, including coal. The GAO reports that tax-expenditure subsidies to fossil fuel power plants totaled nearly $14 billion from FY 2002-7. Reducing subsidies would lead to a higher marginal "sticker" price for consumers (as producers pass higher costs) but lower overall costs and less utilization. The $14 billion tax savings to consumers would be more than what they would face in higher electric bills, so on net consumers would pay less.


With respect to electricity, coal IS king, and no other source comes close. In 2006, coal accounted for just under half of all electricity generated in this country.

While coal may be cleaner (again, thanks in large part to regulations and enforcement that the coal industry fought vigorously), it is still the filthiest way to produce electricity. As mentioned coal accounts for roughly half of electricity generation; however, emissions from coal-fired electricity plants account for 5/6s of electricity-related CO2 emissions and even higher percentages of electricity-related methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Still wondering said...

OK. You suggested that we stop the subsidies and that we use less energy. You still didn't say what energy sources you prefer.

Dave Ribar said...


Conservation is the first preference. I've written on this a couple of times and believe that it needs more emphasis because it helps on several fronts.

We should also do more to bring renewables on-line. Wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal energy all have great potential. Right now, wind seems to be the most practical.

Another renewable source, ethanol, is a little more dodgy. As an immediate measure, I'd like to see our tariffs on Brazilian ethanol dropped. The subsidies for corn-based ethanol seem to be a boondoggle with limited net energy potential and with some impacts on food prices; the ethanol subsidies should be dropped.

A final alternative is nuclear energy.

Oil is cleaner than coal, but is expensive and has other problems. There are similar concerns regarding natural gas.

Dave Ribar said...
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