Last week, SACE participated in a media flurry over two released reports. The first report documents how America’s traditional power plants (like coal and nuclear) consume vast amounts of freshwater – an invaluable, and increasingly stressed resource here in the Southeast. The second report gives us a path forward – away from dirty, thirsty coal plants and equally thirsty nuclear plants. The other report (“Toward a Sustainable Future for the US Power Sector: Beyond Business as Usual 2011“) was published by Synapse Energy Economics and commissioned by the Civil Society Institute to figure out how the U.S. could power our country without coal.
Hardly a pie-in-the-sky, academic endeavor, Beyond Business as Usual looks at a 40 year timeframe to phase out coal and cut nuclear without heavy reliance on any one single source of electricity generation. By ramping up energy efficiency, solar, wind energy, biomass and other renewable energies, the report lays out a roadmap for eliminating coal by 2050 – all while reducing consumer costs by $18 Billion. This is possible, in part, due to renewable energy’s fuel costs being stable in perpetuity – in other words, the wind and sun are free whereas coal and natural gas prices are expected to continue to fluctuate wildly. An additional $450 billion in health-related costs would be avoided (such as asthma and premature deaths caused by coal) and are not included in the analysis’ initial $18 Billion savings figure. Water consumption would be expected to drop 90% over a business-as-usual scenario – nearly a 54 trillion gallon per year reduction.
This Thanksgiving, in addition to family and friends, I’m also thankful for energy alternatives to “business as usual.”