How did coal lose its status as the preferred electrical generation over the past 30 years? As an engineer, researcher and developer involved with coal for over 35 years, I have experienced firsthand the impacts of the long term PR campaign against coal and the resulting regulations.
As a lead author for the IPCC and 2007 Nobel co-recipient (with Al Gore), Professor Kolstad (June 11 Robert Samuelson column) is vested in protecting decades old reports that have swayed public opinion and governmental policies, particularly in light of growing recognition that the IPCC predictions have not been realized.
Over the past several decades, the generation industry dominated by regulated public utilities responded to the negative PR with low profiles and incremental innovations, which virtually eliminated significant air, water and land impacts without recognition from the emotionally invested opponents.
Since regulated utilities effectively pass along the “regulatory tax” to their customers, they simply evolved to “give the public what it wants”. As such they failed to educate their rate payers of the true impacts of the punitive regulations and the resulting shutdown of otherwise viable power plants.
Renewable energy standards and tax credits provide subsidies that can create negative electricity prices. This obviously does not make economic sense. Generally renewable generation requires duplicate capability to supply power when the “sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing”.
As Courtney Young argued (May 27 guest opinion), we do need more coal research, but it needs to include an objective focus on public education and policy as well as new technology.