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Coal Is the Cornerstone of America's Electricity Supply
A new President and Congress will soon take their seats in Washington and our energy situation will be high on their agenda. As the debate proceeds, it will behoove all Americans to remember the crucial role electricity plays in our prosperity and quality of life.
In 1999, the American Academy of Engineering labeled electricity the “single most important engineering achievement of the past century”. And no wonder, electricity is the lifeblood of our modern society, powering homes, businesses, farms, institutions, communication, manufacturing and health care and safety systems. Life as we know it would be impossible without electricity and it is a hallmark of our society that for decades Americans have benefited from the most reliable electric power system in the world.
Coal is the foundation of that reliability. Coal produces 50% of our electricity and that means a staggering 2,000 billion kilowatt hours--more than all the electricity used in Germany , France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom combined . The 600 coal plants scattered throughout the nation are the tireless workhorses of our electric generation fleet. Coal plants produce electricity when drought hits the hydroelectric dams, solar panels are clouded over and wind turbines are in the doldrums. They produce electricity when natural gas is too expensive to use and when nuclear power plants are closed. Coal power plants are there each day, every day, 24-7.
Coal-based electric power has socioeconomic benefits that go far beyond the plants themselves. Coal generation produces more than $1 trillion in GDP, generates over $360 billion in household income and supports nearly 7 million jobs. Tax revenues from coal production and use support local communities, the states and the federal government. The stability of coal prices and the consistency of supply allow families, businesses and institutions to plan for the future under the safe assumption coal-based electricity will be there. Coal is the energy basis of our national security.
The scale of the power coal brings to the table often gets lost in words-- 50% slides easily off the lips -- 50% of this, 50% of that. But just think for a minute of what 50% really means -- it means half. In other words, coal powers half the electricity -- more than the combined output of nuclear (20%), natural gas (20%) and hydroelectric (6%). Wind produces only 2% and solar virtually nothing. Even more importantly, the time and cost which would be required to bring these other fuels to a national scale means coal is here to stay.
In fact, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasted that over the next 20 years the amount of the electricity produced by coal will increase significantly. This new electric power from coal will be sorely needed. The United States is a growing country. Each year we add over 3 million people to the population, start millions of new businesses and buy tens of millions of computers, iPods and electric coffeepots. Through all of this growth there is only one fact about our electric power system of which we can be sure--- coal is America's fuel.
Coal's past is only prologue to its future. The United States has more coal than OPEC has oil and Iran and Russia have natural gas. Coal can reliably provide affordable electric power to Americans for the next 200 years or more. In short, coal has been, is and will continue to be the cornerstone of not only our electric power system but also of our economic prosperity and the quality of our life. Coal really can do that.