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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Coal vs. Gas Revisited

In June The Guardian reported on the release of an important Greenpeace report on coal-fired power generation. The summary made shocking reading:

"Air pollution from Europe's 300 largest coal power stations causes 22,300 premature deaths a year and costs companies and governments billions of pounds in disease treatment and lost working days" 

In fact a total of 240,000 years of life were said to be lost in Europe in 2010 with 480,000 work days a year. 

The UK was Europe's fifth most coal-polluted country in 2010, with 22,600 "life years" lost. Drax, Britain's largest coal-powered station, was said to be responsible for 4,450 life years lost, while Longannet in Scotland was said to be responsible for 4,210 life years lost.

The Greenpeace report is not scaremongering. In fact it is in line with studiesdone in the USA and previously reported in this blog

Greenpeace would like to replace coal with renewables, which is frankly impracticable. If, for example, we switched our coal generation to wind, it would require 851,000 5 MW windmills working flat-out all year. And that does not consider their effect on our environment, the radioactive and chemical pollution they cause in China, the lack of constant wind (except in some parts of the Houses of Parliament) and the lack of space for such a number of mills.

By contrast shale gas is a known, practicable, increasingly well regulated and greening industry. There are many reasons why we should produce shale gas, not the least of which is the saving of life and living potential that switching coal generation to gas generation would bring.

I would suggest we

·         produce shale gas,

·         compensate the PIMBYs,

·         tax the companies,

·         use revenues to boost the energy saving and renewable energy developments, as well as

·         making gas-fired power and heating available free to all families with children under 10 as well as those over the age of 70. 
Then we’ll improve social justice, save lives from coal pollution, reduce premature winter deaths (about 24,000 per year) significantly, and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. 

Do nothing and coal-fired generation and pollution will go up as a result of imported coal (unwanted coal from the USA ironically), energy efficiency and renewable development will limp along, green-house gas emissions will continue to rise, and we will carry on trying to avoid thinking about the annual winter death toll.

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