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Letters: Tallying the true cost of coal

August 01, 2012

Re "Dirty but essential," Opinion, July 27

Robert Bryce begins his Op-Ed article on coal at Peabody Energy's huge North Antelope Rochelle Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Is that really the best place to get an idea as to how "essential" coal is to our future?

I would point Bryce to a Georgia Power Co.plant featured in a July 14 National Public Radio report. The plant manager explained all the reasons why his plant converted from coal to natural gas — part of a wave of conversions that accounts for the two fuels each being responsible for about one-third of the nation's electricity production.

Coal, historically the nation's dominant power plant fuel, has dropped from a 60% share in 1988.

I agree with Bryce that India and China will remain hooked on coal. But when an international climate treaty is adopted by all, I believe that coal use will subside there as it has in the U.S.

Irvin Dawid

Palo Alto

Bryce's defense of coal boils down to the fact that it's cheap; he puts it at a "total" cost of only $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Yes, this may be the cost of extraction, transportation and conversion to electrons, but it cannot be a total cost without including the cost of disposal of byproducts, principally carbon dioxide, and of despoiling the physical environment in the process of extraction.

The true cost of burning coal is inconvenient to determine, but the longer we burn it in such vast quantities, we are greatly devaluing our future for the sake of a cheaper present.

Is coal essential? By no means, with renewables available with truly lower total costs.

Mike Sentovich

Rossmoor

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