Business/Finance

Why save coal instead of investing in wind?

Money moves toward enterprises where profit lies in waiting.

But money runs as fast as possible from the tired and unprofitable.

wind turbines sky road

Wind turbines along I-80 in southern Wyoming.

Consider the fortunes of wind-generated energy and that produced by burning coal — a carbon fuel notable for emissions of carbon dioxide into an atmosphere already laden with it.

President Donald campaigned on the reckless promise to rescue the coal industry. I’ve already written about the economic improbability of coal’s rebirth (and the jobs that go with it). Note, too, that President Donald’s former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, disagreed with the president’s touting of coal. (Hence the italicized former.)

Now President Donald has proposed forced intervention to save the coal industry. He’s ordered the energy secretary, Rick Perry, to find steps to halt the closing of unprofitable coal plants around the country. (Ditto on unprofitable nuclear plants, too.)

Unprofitable. That whoosing sound is money rushing away from coal (and nukes) as fast as it can. No sane energy executive is going to continue to operate a plant that loses massive amounts of money. Nor is a sane executive going to recommend spending up two billion dollars to build a coal plant that will have a half-century lifetime in the era of climate change. There’s no money to be made there.

So a president who routinely invokes the magic of the mythical “free market” to create American jobs seeks to save an money-losing industry — instead of promoting one that, in the long run, shows great potential for profit and lessens the burden shouldered by our common good, the Earth’s atmosphere.

A remarkable Vox piece by Umair Ifran and Javier Zarracina, illustrated by smart charts, shows the growth of wind farms in the United States. The federal government says that wind turbines now account for more than 8 percent of national renewable energy — beating even hydroelectricity.

Wind power isn’t going away. So why do Americans have a government that lags in investment in a clean power-generating technology and insists on preserving a fossil-fuel past that has produced public-health consequences and contributes to climate change?

photo credit: Denny Wilkins

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