Looking at Energy From the Wrong Perspective

Our collective perspective on energy is terribly skewed. And sometimes it’s just downright bizarre. It seems like every day I come across something that makes me realize how upside down we are when it comes to thinking about energy.

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the coal ash spill in Tennessee, which poured one billion gallons (yes, billion) of toxic sludge into the surrounding area. Local residents have been forced to leave their homes because of high levels of arsenic, lead and mercury. Farmers can’t let their cattle graze. And fisherman have nothing to catch anymore. The clean-up effort could cost anywhere between $800 million and $1.2 billion. Of course, they didn’t factor that cost into the development of the coal-fired power plant.

So who’s going to pick up that bill? Ratepayers and taxpayers, that’s who. They’ll also have to pick up the bill at the hospital. Oh, and don’t forget the farmer who will have to re-build his farming operation, the local campground owner who will have to find another business to get into and all the displaced families that need to find new homes.

When the hidden costs of burning dirty energies become so brutally clear, it should make us realize how much less costly renewables are. Yet somehow, clean energies are constantly pegged as too expensive. ::continue::

Anyone familiar with the conversation around energy knows about the negative externalities (i.e. environmental, social and health costs) that are not properly valued in the price of fossil energies. Full-cost accounting is central to the argument in favor of renewables.

This anniversary of this incident would have been a perfect opportunity for journalists and pundits to broaden the discussion and compare the full cost of renewable energies with fossil energies. Unfortunately, only a few energy and environmental advocacy blogs picked up on the theme and the newspapers and television talk shows focused exclusively on the immediate environmental disaster. Not much more.

Meanwhile, because of our inability to connect the dots, the average citizen still sees renewables as more expensive. That’s what we tell them, despite evidence to the contrary, so that’s what they will continue to believe.

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