Coal

Supporters of coal say the fuel is an abundant national resource that provides cheap electricity. But critics argue that the true cost of coal is not reflected in its price and our continued reliance on it threatens the environment, public health, and the economy.

Background

Watch an animation on how carbon is created and why coal plants emit CO2, get the facts on coal in the U.S., and find out what role this fossil fuel plays in Austin.

Coal and Carbon: The Basics

Coal and Carbon: The Basics

US Flag

Coal in the U.S.


Seal of the City of Austin

Austin and Coal Power



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Perspectives

See what people are saying about coal power. Lobbyists and critics weigh in — and PBS’s “Frontline” investigates the role coal power plays in our economy.

Coal Lobby

Coal supporters

Frontline on Coal

Frontline on Coal

Coal Satire

Coal Satire

Austin Coal Facts

Coal has long been considered cheap energy: unhealthy yes, but with an intoxicatingly low price. But with the environmental and cost realities of today’s energy markets, there are seven compelling cost reasons for Austin to re-think its ownership of a coal power plant. 

Our Ideas

When it comes to energy and the environment, Austin’s actions are a paradox.

Austin wants to be the nation’s #1 City on Climate Protection.  Yet at the same time, it is expanding its investment in the electric-generating fuel source that spews the most carbon (per KWh) into the atmosphere.  These actions don’t fit together.

Like the runner in the above video, Austin very much runs on coal.  In fact, Austin owns (jointly with the LCRA) its own coal-powered electricity-generating plant.

WHY SHOULD AUSTIN CARE HOW MUCH COAL IT BURNS?

Coal is a very dirty fuel.  Austin’s coal-powered plant generates about 35% of Austin’s electricity.  But it is responsible for more than 70% of Austin Energy’s carbon emissions.  It is also responsible for at least two thirds of Austin Energy’s polluting emissions – emissions that contribute to smog, acid rain, respiratory ailments, and brain damage in infants.

AUSTIN POLLUTES TO MAKE MONEY?

Austin’s actions seem even more paradoxical when you consider that Austin now engages in the competitive business of selling power to other communities.

That’s right.   Austin burns coal to generate electricity for sale to other communities.  This does some good things for Austin (more money).  But it also promotes some bad things.  One is more pollution.  Another is reduced transparency into Austin Energy’s decisions.  When you’re selling into a competitive market, you don’t want to share information that affects your competitive position.  Unfortunately this desire for secrecy is often used to block citizens’ access to information relevant to Austin Energy decisions.

THE BIG QUESTION:  IS IT WORTH IT?

How much money would Austin have to make by burning fossil fuels to serve electric users outside of Austin to make it worthwhile to:

  • undercut its legitimacy to become the #1 city in the nation on Climate Protection;
  • justify sacrificing the core value of public access to information?

In fact, we at PowerSmack wonder how long it will be profitable to sell coal-generated electricity at all.  Coal costs are rising rapidly.  Over the last year:

  • maintenance cost of the coal plant was up 12.5% ($2.4 million over budget);
  • fuel costs for coal were up 73% ($37 million higher than prior year);
  • $78 million was budgeted last year alone for additional equipment at the coal plant (part of an “about $300 million” multi-year budget to reduce pollution from the coal plant).

Further, Austin Energy’s own consultants estimate that federal regulations on carbon will double the cost of operating Austin’s coal plant in future years.

Austin aims to be the most livable city in the country.  Shouldn’t we be cutting back on activities that contribute to making our planet less livable?