by Alana Wase |
By Alana WasePollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States and adds nearly $62 billion per year to health-care costs. But the dangers of coal-fired power plants dont end there: They are the single largest contributor to global warming, responsible for 39 percent of our total greenhouse gas emissions.
Moving Maryland Beyond Coal
By Alana Wase—Pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States and adds nearly $62 billion per year to health-care costs. But the dangers of coal-fired power plants don’t end there: They are the single largest contributor to global warming, responsible for 39 percent of our total greenhouse gas emissions.
In response to the threats that dirty energy poses to our health and our environment, the national Sierra Club launched an extensive Beyond Coal campaign in 2009 to stop the building of any new coal plants—a campaign that was a tremendous success. In that year, not a single new coal plant broke ground. The success continues into 2011 as Sierra Club chapters across the country have helped to halt the construction of 154 coal plants.
In Maryland, no new coal plants were on the drawing boards, but in the past year we did battle with the PATH “coal-by-wire” transmission line. After an intense fight, I’m happy to report that we did our part and defeated this multibillion-dollar-investment in coal dependence. You can read more about it at http://maryland.sierraclub.org/action/p0204.asp.
The Next Challenge
With these incredible successes under our belts, we are now turning to the next phase. Our goal is to retire existing coal plants, which are well past their prime. To put their ages into perspective, 40 percent of our state’s power plants were built before Ronald Reagan took office (in 1981) and 22 percent were built before John F. Kennedy took office (in 1961).
Following is a chart from Maryland Power Plants and the Environment: A Review of the Impacts of Power Plants and Transmission Lines on Maryland’s Natural Resources (CEIR-15). In this chart, entitled “Aging of Maryland’s Generating Capacity,” produced by the Maryland Power Plant and Research Program, generation capacity or nameplate capacity refers to the maximum amount of electricity that can be produced from a power plant when operating at full capacity. From the graph we see that roughly 65 percent of Maryland’s generating capacity, or potential to create electricity, comes from power plants that are 30 years old or more.
The rapid evolution, and seemingly effortless improvement, of our computers, phones, and internet technology makes us wonder why our energy sectors haven’t kept pace. The short answer is simple. Those who have become wealthy from our current energy structure would like to continue dominating the market, even if it means holding our nation back from achieving energy independence and renewable, non-polluting electricity.
Indeed, according to the Maryland State Ethics Commission, of the top 10 companies that spent the most funds lobbying in Maryland in 2010, three of them were electric utilities. This also mirrors lobbying at the federal level, as the electric utilities outspend every other special-interest industry, except the health-care industry.1
Needless to say, we’re taking on some very large special-interest groups, and we need your help.
Turning the Corner
This is a turning point in our energy work in Maryland. For the first time we are not only working to advance offshore wind, solar energy, and energy efficiency, but we are equally working to remove some of the state’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants from the electric grid. Strategically, during the next phase of our Beyond Coal work in Maryland, we will target three plants for retirement—the H.P. Crane, Herbert Wagner, and R. Paul Smith plants. (See Laura Buzek’s article on the three plants on page 6).
Our vision is clear. We want a healthier, fairer, and cleaner energy structure, one which is not clouded by smog, soot, mercury, and asthma. We can do better, and we’ve proven it in recent years.
Because of a state-mandated law to improve energy efficiency, we now have reduced our peak demand by 600MW, and this is only in the first two years of implementing programs that will continue through 2015.2 Additionally, renewable energy has grown to now make up 5.5 percent of the state’s electricity—just a few years ago this number was hovering around one percent.3
Our opponents will suggest we want the lights to go out, but this is false. We’re simply requesting that deadlines be set to phase-out our oldest and dirtiest coal plants responsibly, just as we’ve set deadlines to continue increases in energy efficiency, conservation and deployment of renewable energy.
We’ve dedicated most of this issue of Chesapeake to this campaign. We hope you’ll be inspired with our success to date. Keeping 150 new coal plants from being built is just the beginning. With over 500 coal plants in the nation and coal being responsible for nearly 50 percent of the electricity we produce it is a tall order, but we must start somewhere.
Join us in moving Maryland Beyond Coal. Sign our petition asking Governor O’Malley to phase out these three coal plants by going to our website at www.maryland.sierraclub.org. For more details or to get involved with the energy team that’s making this happen, email Laura Buzek at energy.intern
Alana Wase is a law student at the University of Maryland. At the time of this writing, she was the Conservation Coordinator for the Maryland Chapter.
1 Center for Responsive Politics: Washington Lobbying Grew to $3.2 Billion Last Year, Despite Economy, (http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/6-lobbyists-buy-congress/)
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