The Real Cost of Carbon Explored in New Study

Oct. 29, 2013
Coal-fired power plants aren't economically viable.

Which energy source can best power the United States’ electricity needs – a combination of clean energy systems or coal-fired power plants?

Answering that question while focusing on the bottom line just got easier. New research suggests that it is less costly to generate electricity from clean energy sources than coal-fired power plants when factoring in climate change costs and other health impacts. Researchers say that closing up shop on the dirtiest coal-fired power plants isn’t just better for the environment, but it also makes the most sense financially.

Carbon pollution imposes economic costs by damaging public health and driving destructive climate change. To put a dollar amount on these damages, various organizations have created a social cost of carbon model (SCC).

The report, which utilizes various SCC models, reveals that it’s cheaper to replace a typical existing coal-fired power plant with a wind turbine than to keep the old plant running. The study also says that new electricity generation from wind could be more economically efficient than natural gas.

“Burning coal is a very costly way to make electricity. There are more efficient and sustainable ways to get power,” says Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Suggestions that came out of the report include setting strong pollution standards for existing power plants. Using a system-wide emissions averaging approach could help lower compliance costs.

The study, “The Social Cost of Carbon: Implications for Modernizing our Electricity System,” was published in Springer’s Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

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