Allan Tweddle: Coal lobby continues to mislead (Opinion)

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Once again, coal lobbyist Chris Hamilton is fantasizing about coal’s impossible role in the climate change crisis reality to please his supporters, the coal company shareholders.

By contrast, the overwhelming scientific and economic evidence states unequivocally that the only way to achieve the “must-achieve-goal” of zero carbon emissions is to stop burning fossil fuels.

And while that scientific truth has been understood for decades, acting upon it has been politically charged and difficult.

But money talks. Coal-fired power is now among the most costly forms of power generation. Wind and solar, particularly photovoltaics, are the lowest-cost methods of power generation, by significant factors.

And the real truth is that coal’s already high-cost figure is actually quite higher when the existing, taxpayer-funded subsidies are taken into account, along with the additional taxpayer funds required to clean up the abandoned mines, the poisoned land and rivers — to say nothing about the higher health care costs and premature death rates that are directly attributable to mining, transporting and burning coal.

And, as has previously been reported, a review of similar costs by Forbes reported that it costs less to build a solar-power replacement plant than to operate a coal plant for just one year.

Hamilton’s touting of the jobs numbers also is deceptive. The growth of clean safe jobs in solar energy, as reported by the Department of Labor, is the fastest job growth rate in the entire U.S. economy. The 2018 U.S. Labor Department records show that there were 335,000 jobs in just solar energy, and growing rapidly, compared to declining numbers of 211,000 in the entire fossil fuels industry, including coal.

Elimination of the subsidies that fossil fuels have been getting from taxpayers for decades would widen the price differential even more.

And yes, the transitioning to renewables will require the retraining of coal miners and some upheaval for their families. But the clean, safe, renewable jobs will remove the life-shortening dangers that coal miners are required to endure.

We rate payers deserve better.

The Public Service Commission works for us. It is not chartered to protect the profits of the coal companies or the utilities. We taxpaying consumers need to speak up loud and clear that the time is ripe and vital for an accelerated transition to the job-creating, lower-cost and clean renewables.

I bring decades of professional engineering experience to this dialogue. One memorable example was when I lived and worked in Southern California. My industrial engineering partners and I were engaged by Southern California Edison to guide it in its leading-edge plans to replace fossil fuel plants with the first nine concentrated solar power plants in North America. As I’ve previously stated, the naysayers claimed, “Those CSP Plants will never pay for themselves until crude oil prices reach $14 per barrel.”

The choice is clear. Renewables are lower in cost and are creating more jobs than the entire fossil fuels industry.

That looks to me like a no-brainer. Are we West Virginians up to it for our children’s and grandchildren’s future?

Allan Tweddle lives in Charleston.

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