Coal and Oil Provides the Shelter from Irene

Marita Noon
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Posted: Aug 28, 2011 12:01 AM

“Coal is making us sick. Oil is making us sick.” So said Senator Harry Reid. With the entire East Coast facing a fierce Irene, nothing could be further from the truth.

America’s energy is what is keeping people alive despite nature’s fury.

The news is filled with clips of governors, mayors, and police chiefs begging people to evacuate and escape the storm and shots of highways are filled with cars heading out. Reports warn that gas stations are running out of gas and major power outages are predicted. Some areas could be out of power for as long as two weeks.

Buried between the lines of “storm surges” and “wind gusts,” is an untold story of the importance of energy in saving lives.

One hundred years ago, the rate of death in America due to extreme weather was dramatic with 8000 people being killed in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Today, the death rate per million has dropped from 241.8 in the 1920’s to 3.5 in the 2000-2006 period—a decline of 99%. The Death and Death Rates Due to Extreme Weather Events report, indicates that better transportation and communication systems have played a major role in the decline of death rates.

People hear about the storm through TV, Radio, and the internet. They get into their cars and drive away. Coal is keeping people alive—not making them sick. Coal provides the electricity for the communications. Oil is keeping people alive—not making them sick. Oil provides the gas for the transportation.

The role of America’s energy to keep people alive and well goes beyond hurricanes.

Over the last several weeks, much of the country has been facing near-record breaking heat that has strained the power grid as high air conditioning demand nearly caused rolling outages and almost cut power to “interruptible” customers—such as large industrial plants— that are paid to be dropped to provide extra capacity for the remaining customers. Despite the heat and the heavy use of electricity, few deaths have been reported and most of them are due to a lack of air conditioning.

Coal—the largest single source of America’s electricity—is keeping people alive.

With the vital role of American energy in keeping us alive and well, you’d think that exploration and extraction would be encouraged, that permits would be streamlined, and that power plants would be popular. Not! James Wood, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy says, “New regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency mean a lot of coal-fired power plants will shut down soon. The approval of new rules for air pollution, water pollution and waste disposal could result in the retirement of between 35 and 70 gigawatts of coal-fired power generation nationwide, with EPA predicting much less and some analysts predicting much more.”

Megan Parsons, of the engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, said “These days utilities aren’t coming to the company for help with developing coal plants. Instead, they’re looking at environmental retrofits—and studying whether it’s viable to even keep the plants open. A lot of utilities are retiring their coal units,” she said. “So if you combine that with what’s happening with shutting down coal and with the fact that we’re seeing a 10 to 15 percent demand growth by 2020, you can see that we’ve got a problem. We need to be installing some baseload generation resources.” Combining the shutdowns with the projected growth, we’ll be looking at as high as a 35% reduction in electricity.

So, what will we do with summer heat in an energy environment reduced by up to 35 percent? The administration seems to like only expensive, intermittent, and unreliable wind and solar power which has massive land use issues that trouble environmentalists who then block the projects. Despite the fact that there is no replacement ready for the retired coal-fueled plants, the EPA is moving ahead with their plans.

A real-life picture of health in a reduced energy environment can be found in post-tsunami Japan. With their electric power cut by only 9% due to nuclear plant shutdowns, cases of heat stroke have quadrupled in the 95 degree heat.

As Tokyo tries to conserve electricity, the “setsuden” measures are making life tough. Air conditioning has been turned down, the lights are kept low, and at lunchtime, some companies turn off everything. The once bustling capital famous for its neon lights, has now turned into a city of darkened buildings and slower running trains. Many fear the power-saving drive will further slow a struggling economy.

Japan had power reduction forced upon them due to a natural disaster. In America a power reduction could cause a national disaster in both the health of our people and our economy. Japan’s energy crisis was involuntary. America’s is voluntary as long as our citizens sit by and accept the administration’s restrictions.

Coal and oil do not make us sick. They save lives in times of natural disasters—including hurricanes and heat waves. They are the foundation for a healthy economy.

With Irene bringing the importance of energy to light, it’s time to release a national fury to change the direction of America’s energy policies.


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