Sunday, October 25, 2009

Report Finds Massive Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuel Energy, Mostly From Coal

Here's more on the report I blogged about Thursday -- about the hidden health, environmental, and other costs of our current fossil-fuel-focused energy supply system.

Says Grist's David Roberts:

A new report from the National Research Council on the “hidden costs of energy” is, frankly, stunning.  In a sane world, it would be headline news.

Producing and using energy imposes all sorts of costs on public health, crop yields, ecosystems, recreation, educational performance ... the list goes on. Many of these costs don’t end up reflected in the market price of energy; consumers don’t see them or factor them into purchasing decisions. They are hidden, paid indirectly through, for example, health-care spending or environmental-remediation costs. Such costs are external to energy markets—externalities, as economists call them—and they represent an enormous subsidy to the dirtiest sources of energy.

In 2005, Congress set about finding out just what these external costs of energy production and use amount to. It requested that the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Science) attempt to place a number on them. On Monday, the NRC released its report: “Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use.”

First, note that the report did not attempt to quantify the damage to ecosystems and agriculture wrought by climate change. It did not attempt to quantify the national security costs of securing energy supplies. It did not attempt to quantify the land-use costs of biofuels. It didn’t attempt to quantify the costs of mercury pollution, which as Bill Chameides documents, are substantial. It didn’t attempt to quantify the impact on taxpayers that subsidies to the coal industry impose.
So a huge chunk of costs were written out, meaning the results are extremely small-c conservative. Nonetheless, the NRC found that hidden costs amounted to $120 billion in 2005.

Of that $120 billion, a whopping $62 billion—over half—came from one source: coal-fired electricity plants. And that’s only a partial accounting...
I didn't mention this in my post the other day, but these hidden costs of fossil fuel use also include things like reduced worker productivity, businesses having to pay workers for sick days (and days they're not feeling great because the air quality stinks -- no pun intended), school absences (and parents having to stay home from work to care for sick children), and so much more.

The more we learn about our energy alternatives, the better a clean energy and transport revolution sounds...

Read the full post>>

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