Counterpoint: Why target the coal industry? Let me field that question.

  • Article by: JIM DAVIDSON
  • Updated: June 10, 2014 - 6:15 PM

It isn’t clean, period. And while it may provide jobs, so will wind and solar.

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Xcel Energy’s Sherco facility in Becker, Minn., burns 9 million tons of coal annually.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE • Star Tribune file,

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State Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, predicts a disaster for central Minnesota families and economies if efforts to reduce carbon emissions are implemented (“How the war on coal would hurt Minnesota,” June 9). “Why do they want to punish the U.S. coal industry?” he asks about environmentalists. I hope to answer that question.

Newberger asks the reader to consider the costs of waging war on coal. Coal employs 800 people in his district — people in good-paying jobs. The Sherco plant is cited as being “unbelievably clean.” Energy prices, he says, will skyrocket without coal. Renewable energies are a result of “tax-and-spend one-party DFL rule.” Finally, he trots out the oldest pony: “Wind and solar are not viable alternatives” and are “simply unable to match the energy production of coal.”

Reality is another horse entirely. More than 2,000 Minnesota jobs have been created by wind and solar energy in recent years. The pace will be much faster in coming years as technology reduces the costs of such energy by another 30 percent. Just weeks ago, the state Public Utilities Commission granted a contract to increase sevenfold Minnesota’s current solar capacity. That bid was won on economics alone. Coal will never again win a bid against wind or solar energy. That is our new reality.

Coal is “clean,” or so Newberger says. He never mentions the elephant in the room: carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). He brags of Sherco’s ability to service 2.5 million people. He touts its 2,400-megawatt capacity. Yes, both true. But at what cost to future generations, as climate warms and oceans rise?

Sherco burns 9 millions tons of coal yearly, emitting 26 million tons of CO2 — a harmful global-warming gas. Result: Each Sherco residential customer inherits 10 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Newberger boasts that such emissions are clean. Many find such misuse of language offensive and dangerous — not to mention politically motivated.

Sadly, Newberger is stalwart in his conviction that solar and wind power are not quite ready for prime-time mass production. That is but a feel-good fantasy of a person in denial. The coal industry is dying. Coal is a terribly dirty business — at all stages — and is destined for the dust bin. Wise political leaders will see the future coming, accept the opportunities and help build those economic realities in their districts.

Finally, for “dirty coal,” Newberger points a finger at Russia and China. He informs us they have “few, if any, pollution standards.” Perhaps. Yet China is adding wind and solar much faster than the United States. And China produces only 6 tons of CO2 per person; Russia, 11 tons per person. The United States, on the other hand? We produce 18 tons of CO2 per person. We have less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we produce 24 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

This single Sherco coal facility (as good as it might be) emits 10 tons of CO2 per year — per customer. How dare anyone call such an ancient and outdated energy clean?

 

Jim Davidson is retiring from his importing and wholesale business and is active in faith-based environmental efforts. He lives in St. Paul.

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