Recently, West Virginia Public Broadcasting posted an article claiming Harrison Power Station, OUR station, was one of the “deadliest” polluters and that emissions from our plant was responsible for contributing to 122 premature deaths in the U.S. annually.
The data used to support the article came from a propaganda piece from The Sierra Club, entitled, “Out of Control- The Deadly Impact of Coal Pollution“. The report goes on to state that 17 coal-fired power plants are responsible for an estimated 1,920 premature deaths.
The study goes into great and confusing detail of the methodology used to come up with these numbers, all backed up by name dropping prestigious universities and governmental bodies that seem to codify their conclusions.
Both the article and the report only serve to prove what we in the power industry already know, which is that ignorance is a very dangerous thing!
The article states that Harrisons TWO units produce 1,984 mega-watts, when in fact, Harrison has THREE units. The footprint of land and resources that Harrison occupies in generating this power is miniscule when considering that the most advanced windmills to date can only produce a maximum of average of 2.75 mega-watts per unit. This translates to 788 windmills to produce the same amount of power of Harrison Power Station.
The largest solar farm in the United States, to date, is the Solar Star project in California. It boasts 1.7 million solar panels that take up over 13 square kilometers of land for a laughable maximum output of 579 mega-watts. After 25-30 years of service, solar panels generally decline in output as they age.
Further neglected is an accounting of the manufacturing energy and resources used in building those windmills and solar panels. Harrison has been in dependable service over 50 years, with regular and predictive maintenance. The blades of windmills are not even recyclable!
One of the emergent technologies coming online is energy storage banks. Large batteries hooked to transformers. Most of these batteries are of the lithium-ion type. The pollution from coal mining pales in comparison to the harmful effects of mining lithium. Lithium mining has been shown to contaminate water tables in the misuse of water, releases large amounts of carbon-dioxide, and destroys large swaths of otherwise fertile land. It takes a half-million gallons of water to process one metric ton of lithium.
What about the power grid?
Large generating units are not meant to cycle up and down like they now have to do as renewable power intermittently cycles on and off the grid, when available. It’s not that renewables will take the place of coal, it’s more likely that this cycling effect will degrade these plants to the point that, because of a lack of reinvestment and a lack of political favor, will be the death nell for coal plants. This at a time when the demand for electric vehicles is set to increase the demand on America’s electrical infrastructure.
The scariest thing is when we get another winter storm like the historic polar vortex we experienced. Gas plants couldn’t run because the fuel supplies were frozen, solar panels were blotted out by an accumulation of snow, and wind turbines sat with icicles hanging from the blades.
Most Americans don’t have a clue how the electricity to their homes is produced, transmitted, and marketed to them. They remain blissfully ignorant of the real-world engineering and science that combines to make sure that when they flip the switch the light comes on.
There are organizations out there who take full advantage of this lack of knowledge and stoke fear and loathing of anything to do with fossil fuels. They raise money from this, pay powerful lobbyists, file lawsuits and injunctions to squeeze every drop of money they can from this topic.
All of us want a clean environment, and there’s no doubt that one day we will find a better way to meet our energy needs, but, until then, we have to let the technology for such energy to evolve and mature. It’s the sensible and responsible thing to do.
The old saying goes, “dance with the one who b’rung ya”.
Coal has been powering this country for over a century. It has pulled us through two world wars, helped us put a man on the moon, and allowed America to become the super-power that it is.