by Zach Rybarczyk
As the third-largest coal producer, Kentucky generates about 94% of its electricity from the resource. As a result, the state has some of the lowest electricity prices in the country. But that’s not the true cost of energy.
According to a health impact assessment by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation that examines research on the impact of coal in Kentucky, the health costs came in at more than $62 million in 2007 — and that’s just for asthma, which inflicts 1 in 10 Kentuckians and kills about 50 people in the state per year. Asthma rates for African Americans of high school age in Kentucky are at 22%.
More than 3.3 million residents in the state live within 30 miles of a coal fired power plant.
The report examines costs along the coal value chain, including mining, transportation and electricity generation. KEF cites a study from Public Health Reports that finds 2,347 – 2,889 yearly excess deaths from coal mining in Appalachia, costing the region an estimated $10 billion each year.
Data reviewed for this health impact assessment clearly indicates that coal poses significant health risks to people working at or living near coal facilities at each phase of its cycle – mining, processing, transportation, combustion, and waste disposal. Accidents in underground mines, and at or near surface coal mines can injure or kill workers or people living nearby. Pollution including soot, smog-forming chemicals, greenhouse gases and heavy metals travels through the air or water and can impact the health of people living close to coal-related activities, and the general public living hundreds of miles from the pollution source.
In fact, a recent report from some of the leading economists in the country found that accounting for these and other environmental harms would add “close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated” from coal.
The health impact assessment was put together by KEF, a Kentucky-based environmental group, in order to raise awareness for policies supporting clean energy in the state. Kentucky currently has no requirement for efficiency or renewable energy generation. However, there is currently a bill in the legislature that would increase renewable energy targets to 12.5% of generation by 2022, increase efficiency by 10.25% by 2022, and create a feed-in tariff program as a support mechanism.
The Institute for Energy Research — an anti-clean energy free-market think tank — has praised Kentucky’s failure to embrace clean energy, saying it “has thus far avoided many of the costly energy policies.”
Or rather, it has pushed the costs elsewhere in society.
- Economics Stunner: “Oil and Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Air Pollution Damages Larger Than Their Value Added.”