Several weeks ago, I was surprised to hear a confusing and relatively misleading radio ad for something called “Keep Electricity Affordable” in Colorado. As someone who works to support the increase of renewable power in the U.S., I’m attuned to pay attention to anything talking about the prices or availability of electricity.
With my interest peaked, I visited the Keep Electricity Affordable (KEA) website. The program is a “citizen’s alliance” for residents of Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming. At first glance, the program sounds great: keep electricity affordable for families and businesses. However, dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that the primary objective of this conservative organization is to protect the interests of coal.
The organization’s blog references an assessment conducted by the North American Energy Reliability Coalition that claims that environmental regulations are the number one risk to protecting energy reliability in the next five years and asserts that EPA instituted regulations on fossil fuels are putting coal plants out of business and endangering the cheap, dirty energy we all now currently enjoy.
While KEA’s claims may be true, they are far from the truth. Consider the short term: in January, all new capacity added to the U.S. grid was from renewable sources—100%. While this still puts the U.S. far behind other leaders such as Germany and Norway, it is indicative of a promising shift. More than 75,000 Americans are currently employed by the wind industry, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
And then consider the long term: the cost of cheap power derived from coal and other fossil fuel sources extends far beyond the number on our monthly utility bill. A forward-thinking blog published more than 10 years ago by the Union of Concerned Scientists points to the numerous costs of cheap, carbon-based energy. In addition to the many environmental costs, including global warming, poor air quality, spilled oil, water and land pollution, and acid rain, there are many human costs, considered “externalities” to the energy pricing system. These costs include human health problems like asthma that result from polluted air and black lung that results from coal mining; damage to ecosystems and the communities supported by those ecosystems as a result of strip mining, oil production, and fracking; the impacts of pollution on crop yields; and the national security costs of relying on foreign sources of oil.
Keeping electricity affordable by continuing to rely on fossil fuels is like building a house of cards, and while it protects our immediate self-interests, jeopardizes a clean and sustainable future for our children and generations to come.