No coal, no nukes, limited natural gas resources, where is the energy going to come from?

 Photo courtesy of Flickr.

There are no serious plans for any new nuclear power plants in the United States. (After the recent reactor leak in Japan, I’m sure that’s a relief to a lot of people.)

And there is growing resistance to building new coal plants throughout the United States, according to today’s Wall Street Journal.

Natural gas use in the US is outpacing production, and prices for natural gas have risen sharply over the past five years.

Renewable energy only makes up 6 percent of energy consumed in the US right now.

In spite of all this, energy demand is rising by about 1.8 percent per year, which means that we’ll need more energy sources.

Where is it going to come from?

If significant numbers of new coal plants don’t get built in the U.S. in coming years, it will put pressure on officials to clear the path for other power sources, including nuclear power, or trim the nation’s electricity demand, which is expected to grow 1.8% this year. In a time of rising energy costs, officials also worry about the long-term consequences of their decisions, including higher prices or the potential for shortages.

As recently as May, U.S. power companies had announced intentions to build as many as 150 new generating plants fueled by coal, which currently supplies about half the nation’s electricity. One reason for the surge of interest in coal was concern over the higher price of natural gas, which has driven up electricity prices in many places. Coal appeared capable of softening the impact since the U.S. has deep coal reserves and prices are low.

But as plans for this fleet of new coal-powered plants move forward, an increasing number are being canceled or development slowed. Coal plants have come under fire because coal is a big source of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for global warming, in a time when climate change has become a hot-button political issue.

An early sign of the changing momentum was contained in the $32 billion private-equity deal earlier this year to buy TXU Corp. To gain support for the deal, the buyers decided to trim eight of 11 coal plants TXU had proposed in Texas. Recent reversals in Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and other states have shown coal’s future prospects are dimming. Nearly two dozen coal projects have been canceled since early 2006, according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, a division of the Department of Energy.

Texas is already the top wind power producer in the nation, overtaking California a couple of years ago. But the amount of power wind produced is still less than 1 percent of what we use nationwide. 

Do you think that solar, wind and other renewables will be able to scale up enough make up the difference?

1 Comment

  1. The numbers do have to add up or the lights go out. Unfortunantly, the public and policy makers have settled into saying nice things like “renewable” without doing the math.

    If you’d like an insider’s look at the good and bad of nuclear power, see my novel “Rad Decision”, available at

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