Revealed: The Cost of Electricity from Coal


"Generating electricity from coal costs U.S. over $500 billion/year."

The hidden costs of generating electricity from coal have been calculated in groundbreaking research by Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and Global Environment. The results of the study Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal released this week by coauthor Dr. Paul Epstein in Boston reveal that the health, environmental and other costs of using coal costs the United States a total of $500 billion per year.

The study tracks the multiple health, environmental and climate-change impacts of coal from its source at the mine to its combustion at the power plant.

Epstein was reported as stating the Center "examined the life cycle of coal production to find hidden costs, or costs that occur when the activity of one agent affects the well-being of another agent outside of any type of market mechanism."

The full study is expected to be published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences later this month.

Although the study is restricted to the U.S., it has implications for South Africa, which generates over 90% of its electricity from coal and is in the process of setting up three new coal-fired plants at a cost of R75 billion.

Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that the U.S. uses just over 1 billion tons of coal per year.

According to the study, air pollution emissions cost $187.5 billion; mercury emission impacts reach $29.3 billion; and greenhouse gas emissions (and accompanying climate change effects) from coal-fired plants costs between $61.7 and $205.8 billion.

Other costs included up to $10 billion from land disturbances, impacts from toxic spills, declines in property values, tourism loss and crop damage, the study noted.

Related Articles

Get Our Streetwise Reports Newsletter Free

A valid email address is required to subscribe