UCS: Another Argument for Clean Energy

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson


Thirty-eight states are spending tens of billions of dollars to import coal, draining their own economies and enriching other states and foreign countries instead. People who pay electric bills would be better off pressing their governments to improve energy efficiency and develop renewable energy sources locally. Money that stays home could help these coal-dependent states to create jobs, upgrade schools and roads, and increase funding for public safety.

That’s the take-home message from “Burning Coal, Burning Cash,” a report the Union of Concerned Scientists released May 19.

“Importing coal to produce electricity is a drain on state economies,” said Jeff Deyette, the assistant director of energy research and analysis in UCS’s Climate & Energy Program and a report co-author. “Ratepayer dollars are diverted out of state instead of spent locally on renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures that would benefit residents directly.”

Most of the nation’s coal comes from Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky, with Wyoming producing 40% of U.S. coal in 2008, the year on which these figures are based. Mines in Wyoming shipped coal to power plants in 34 states, some as far away as New York and Georgia. Many eastern states import their coal from other parts of the world, especially South America and Southeast Asia.

[This is not part of the report, but I have to wonder how the energy consumed in shipping all this coal compares to the energy it produces when it’s burned – and how that compares to the energy delivered to homes and factories. I’m already late getting this report to you, but when I can I’ll try to figure this out and get back to you.]

The report ranks states according to their dependence on imported coal in six categories, and lists the top ten states on each measure. Twenty-five states appear on at least one of the six lists. Only Georgia ranks in the top ten in every category.

The report profiles the 24 most coal-dependent states and suggest ways the states can boost their own economies by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy instead.

Alabama leads the pack in terms of spending on coal imports per person ($297) while Iowa is at the bottom of that list of ten states ($166.) By contrast, six of the ten states that spend the most to import coal spend less than a dollar per person on ratepayer-funded electricity efficiency programs, despite the fact that such programs have been shown to reduce electricity demand and save consumers money.

If you’re curious about how many times your state appears on the six lists of most coal-dependent states, you want to look at map on page 2 of the downloadable four-page executive summary.

Farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners would benefit greatly from a clean energy economy. Wind turbines, methane digesters, carbon offset programs, and bio-energy from crop waste are among the possible revenue generators that could put money in their pockets.

Just about everyone who reads this would breathe easier, be more comfortable, and feel safer if the U.S. Senate would pass a strong climate and energy bill this year. Phone calls, faxes, and web-based e-mails to your senators are good for your health, your personal economy, and your karma. You can do it all by visiting your senator at www.senate.gov.

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One Response to “UCS: Another Argument for Clean Energy”

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