The “other” Achilles heel of coal

atlanta.jpgWe’ve seen states like Kansas reject coal plants because of concerns the emissions will accelerate global warming. That is the biggest fatal flaw with coal. We’ve also seen that nuclear power has its own Achilles heel in a globally warmed world — water.

Now the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a major editorial, raise both the emissions issue and the water issue for coal. They question whether now is the time to be building thirsty coal plants in a state where major water sources like Lake Lanier (see picture) are drying up:

Months before the drought had seized the public’s full attention, the state Environmental Protection Division [EPD] granted permits for a new coal-fired power plant in Early County, a rural community in a severely depressed corner of southwest Georgia. But for a variety of reasons — including mounting concerns about long-lasting water shortages and worsening air pollution — state regulators ought to reconsider, or perhaps even reverse, their decision.

The drought has forced citizens and political officials to confront environmental concerns that are usually brushed aside. So, while Mother Nature has our attention, Georgia’s leaders should think broadly about conserving all of our resources and expanding our energy portfolio.

Just how much water does the coal plant need?

the plant is expected to consume nearly 20 million gallons of water a day from the Chattahoochee River, putting an additional strain on metro Atlanta’s major source of drinking water. While the plant may be a boon to Early County, it could weaken Georgia’s position in the ongoing “water wars” with Florida and Alabama over the disputed Chattahoochee watershed.

The paper notes that “The $2 billion Longleaf Energy Station they’ve proposed would sit on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, about 50 miles upstream from Florida.” And futher, “about two-thirds of Georgia’s electricity is generated by coal-fired plants, such as Longleaf, which scientists say are contributing to global climate change.” Yup, that is what scientists say!

The paper’s startling conclusion:

It’s true that rescinding EPD’s approval of the Longleaf plant would be unprecedented. Nonetheless, the twin specters of continued drought and global warming have provided ample warning that the days of conducting business as usual are over.

The days of business and usual are over. The time to act is now. Kudos to the AJC for its bold call for change.

5 Responses to The “other” Achilles heel of coal

  1. Lou Grinzo says:

    We’re seeing yet another fundamental shift in how we use energy (not that we lacked them before now), in that we have to account for not just CO2 emissions and other pollution, fuel supply, etc., but water consumption. This is yet another reason to push hard to develop and deploy the non-thermoelectric technologies, wind, solar, wave, and tidal power.

  2. john says:

    You can add two more reason for not using coal to this growing list:

    Mountaintop mining as practied in West Virginia destroys vistas and pollutes scarce water; Strip mining as practiced in Wyoming, Utah and the rest of the west does the same.

    Mining kills men and women, and destroys their health.

    Bad stuff, that coal.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Also, burning coal emits mercury, arsenic, selenium, …

    Bad stuff, that coal.

  4. High temperature reactors (like the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor) can use closed-cycle gas turbines for power conversion, and air-cooling, thus getting them around the “achilles-heel” of water supply. It won’t be much of a hit to use air-cooling on high-temperature reactors.

  5. donald the duck says:

    Georgia could use some solar panel factories. That could provide employment, no?