Coal Industry Costs More Than It’s Worth

As the second largest coal-producing state, West Virginia provides 20 percent of all coal mined in the U.S. The West Virginia coal industry brings in $600 million in revenues a year, but costs the state $97.4 million just to repair damage to roads from coal trucks, according to a study by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The coal industry provides only three percent of West Virginia’s total employment, and six percent of its indirect employment. Tax subsidies for the coal industry are an estimated $173.8 million.

Health damages caused by coal generated electricity cost 3.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), according to a National Research Council (NRC) study for Congress released last spring. In 2005, the health damages caused by coal power cost $120 billion. Coal costs about 4.5 cents per kWh. However, when health damages costs are added in, coal power costs about eight cents per kWh. In contrast, wind power costs about five cents per kWh, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Since 2008, over 30 new coal plants were either under construction or constructed, and will generate an estimated total of 17,900 MW, enough to power 15.6 million homes. That is about the amount of homes in California and Arizona. According to an Associated Press (AP) analysis, the 30 new coal plants will also generate about 125 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a year, equivalent to putting 22 million more vehicles on the road.

Phasing out coal

What do a federally owned utility and Canada have in common? Both announced plans this summer to phase out coal plants. The federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced in August that it is idling nine of its coal plants that generate a total of 1,000 megawatts in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. One of the plants may be re-powered with biomass. The TVA provides power for nine million people in seven southeastern states.

TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore said, “Replacing some coal with other, cleaner fuel sources allows a reduction in air emissions including carbon. One of TVA’s key goals is to improve air quality.”

Canada announced plans in June to phase out coal plants alltogether. A total of two-thirds of Canada’s 51 coal plants will be retired by 2014. New regulations for coal plants will be implemented by the end of 2011. Coal plants account for 13 percent of Canada’s total GHG emissions. The planned phase-out will reduce GHG emissions by about 15 million tons, equivalent to taking 3.2 million vehicles off the road.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

3 responses

  1. New emission requirements for coal fired electric power plants will increase costs and eventually lead to their closing which will increase the demand and cost for natural gas and cause a significant increase in the cost for electricity, further compounded by the increased use of electric cars which will cause greater GHG emissions at the electric plants.

  2. Haven’t you heard big oil started investing biilion on ALGAE BIOFUEL. US miliary production of algae jet fuel in 2013. Then Carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS) R&D (FutureGen 1 billion, BP 1 billion). 5-6 years, that will increase cost. Wrong, Algae bio fuel is cheaper than natural gas that must be CCS

Leave a Reply