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Bridge Out: Coal Generation Rises While Natural Gas Falls As The Fairy Tale Comes To An End

Coal’s share of total domestic power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% during the same period last year

, according to the Energy Information Administration [EIA]…. By contrast, natural gas generation averaged about 25.8% this year, compared with 29.5% a year earlier.

Once upon a time there was a charming prince and prescient princess who were building a bridge to a sustainable future to replace their current bridge, which was falling apart and posing a threat to the kingdom. Since they wanted to live happily ever after, they said to all those who wanted to help, “only those who cut carbon pollution sharply may join.”

Each day coal tried to join, but the charming prince and prescient princess both laughed and said “not a chance.” Each day, wind and solar and hydro and energy efficiency and nuclear power punched in at 8 a.m. and the Prince smiled and the Princess smiled. Okay, maybe the Princess didn’t smile at nuclear power but at least she didn’t frown — and this princess was a big frowner since she read the scientific literature on climate change and was, therefore, filled with pre-science of the future.

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One day, natural gas showed up and said, “Hire me. I work cheap, and I will last for a 100 years, maybe more. Oh and I really work well with others.” Wind and solar and hydro and energy efficiency said, “But we don’t leak a super-polluting greenhouse gas, and we don’t poison the water under the bridge, and natural gas won’t be cheap forever. We have far less carbon pollution and if you just charge the people who want to use the bridge a toll, we’re really cheaper. And you can give the toll you collect to everyone in the kingdom.”

But natural gas and his fossil fuel buddies said, “a toll is a tax” and they kept chanting it over and over and over again because that’s what they had been told to do by a mighty wizard-for-hire who used the “magic of the free market” and the “invisible hand” to make everyone do his bidding.

The prescient Princess was unconvinced, but the charming Prince needed the cash — sustaining his currently unsustainable lifestyle wasn’t cheap — so he said, “Cassandra, dearest, I’m overruling you as I always do because you worry too much.”

So they let natural gas start building the bridge — and it turned out he didn’t work well with others and leaked all over the place. And then strangely enough his prices went up a little and the price of his BFF coal went down a little, and the new bridge started looking a whole lot like the old bridge. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, coal generation now exceeded natural gas generation by 50% and that was projected to be the case for the foreseeable future, as this chart from their Short-Term Energy Outlook clearly shows.

At this, the little girl shrieked and said, “Daddy, that has to be the worst story you ever told me.” And the Daddy said, “What didn’t you like about it?” And the little girl said, “For one thing, is the bridge ‘out’ or is it the same as the old bridge?” “What else?” asked Daddy. “It doesn’t have a happy ending,” she said. “Ah,” said Daddy, “well, you asked for a true story. The moral is, without a carbon price, natural gas is only a bridge to a sustainable future in a fairy tale.”

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