Journal: True Cost of Electricity

True Cost

Full Story Online
Full Story Online

Report tallies hidden energy costs

The average retail cost of U.S. coal-fired electricity was 9 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2007 (the most recent year for which data are available). But there are health and environmental costs of that power that consumers don’t pay, at least as part of their electric bill. According to a new report, accounting for those costs would double the true cost of shooting some electrons through the nation’s power grid.

As long as such costs remain hidden, they risk skewing policy and purchasing decisions. A new report released today by the National Research Council now attempts to compute and tally those hidden health and environmental costs associated with energy. And although the sums it offers up are huge, the report acknowledges that society may decide they’re well worth accepting in light of the benefits provided by that energy.

Now about that coal, which supplies nearly half of U.S. electricity: The NRC report finds that the hidden per-kWh health and environmental costs average a little more than 3 cents, but can be as high as 12 cents. The big differential largely reflects the age of plants — newer ones must employ better stack-gas cleaning technologies — and how much sulfur the coal contains.

These extras also don’t account for any pricey environmental havoc associated with global change wrought by coal’s emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide. NRC’s rough gauge of such costs, based on reviewing analyses by others, suggests that these might amount to another 3 cents/kWh.

The report also tackles natural gas use, transportation fuels, nuclear power and renewable energy sources. Together, it computes their fairly easy-to-identify hidden health and environmental costs as at least $120 billion per year.

Phi Beta Iota: The objective of the Earth Intelligence Network, a 501c3 Public Charity, is to help the public create the public intelligence needed to demand that all forms of government and all forms of business properly represent “true costs” at all levels over all time frames, and that holistic policy decisions be made with a full appreciation for the true cost of all decisions.