Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Great Article by RFK, Jr.

This week, the Financial Times published an Op/Ed piece by noted environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. called "How to End America's Deadly Coal Addiction." Say what you might about the Kennedy family, but RFK, Jr. in his leadership of the Waterkeeper Alliance has been one of the most important environmentalists in the U.S. over the past decade.

The piece focuses on the environmental evils of coal for electrical generation, but it presents a strong case for the use of natural gas over coal. It brings up some really interesting points, first about the environmental damage caused by the mining for and burning of coal and then about the kooky conventions that keep coal as a preferred fuel to gas in many places.

He points out that, "of the 1,000 gigawatts of generating capacity currently needed to meet national energy demand, 336 are coal-fired. Surprisingly, America has more gas generation capacity – 450 gigawatts – than it does for coal. However, public regulators generally require utilities to dispatch coal-generated power in preference to gas. For that reason, high-efficiency gas plants are in operation only 36 per cent of the time." Clearly something is wrong.

He also notes that most coal plants are old and small. They are very inefficient and are located near population bases. Continuing to depend on coal for our power has long-term economic and health disadvantages for our country.

While he briefly touts the virtues of alternative energy, his clear message is that natural gas is a superior fuel to coal for power generation. He makes the point that the supply dynamic for natural gas has completely changed because of the economic recovery of gas from shale. Check out the article. It's a pretty quick read and it makes a lot of sense.

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