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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Riverkeeper: RFK Jr. Lights up the Debate : The Future of Generating Electricity

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Riverkeeper met Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy in the lost art of argument. This was the day the US Supreme Court ruling in Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission rendered corporations persons, influencing the vote. The debate was hosted by the University of Charleston, West Virginia.

Clean Energy Now

The harbinger of clean renewable energy’s words fell flat on Blankenship, the coal giant. “If what Mr. Kennedy is saying were true, the building of clean renewable energy projects would already be happening.”

To which the Senator’s son, who sought to advance the national discussion on energy, replied ‘How could you not know that?’

Making Solar Competitive with Coal

Chen Nanyang China Solar Booms: Chinese Government and Manufacturers Push Solar Industry writes China ‘s photovoltaic (pv) capacity will reach 2.9 GW by 2010. This is in part due to the solar subsidy incentive that government gave its’ citizens of 3 yuan (£0.44) a kilowatt hour (Kwh).

Average costs for solar electricity in the US are now between .38 and .53 cents per Kwh (greenecon.net). The average American currently pays for electricity that is at least 50% coal is .12 cents per Kwh (EIA.DOE.gov).

“China plans to spend £ 7 trillion USD on green energy between now and 2020, a 20,000 percent increase in what they spend now, and more than what they spend on their military. The US, however, will increase spending only by 37%,” Kennedy remarks.

America’s solar pv capacity reached 1.9 GW in 2015 per Earth-Policy.org. Though, PEWClimate.org reports that 220 MW of this were installed in 2014 alone. [One Gigawatt (GW) is 1000 Megawatts (MW). One MW is 1000 kilowatt hours (Kwh)].

Martin La Monica, news.cnet.com writes that companies such as Ausra’s advancements in “thermal storage” stores hot water a power plant can draw on when the sun is not shining. Robert Morgan, Ausra’s chief development officer says, “With thermal storage, we can compete with coal on price.”This is between .10 -.12 cents per Kwh.

The True Cost of Coal: Mountain Top Removal Methods

The Riverkeeper argued further, we are destroying our own natural capital. Hundreds of communities have been destroyed by the mountain top removal methods for mining coal. Given the true cost of coal in a true market place, coal could never compete with clean energies.

Kennedy describes mountaintop removal as using an amount of ammonium nitrate equal to that used in “an Hiroshima bomb once a per week” to literally explode the tops off mountains. The rock, debris and rubble then fill the valleys below into the streams.”

  • Despite its great wealth of raw materials, West Virginia ranks 49th in greatest poverty in the nation.
  • Five hundred mountain tops have been exploded into 2000 miles of streams in West Virginia.
  • Business avoids West VA due to the quality of life i.e. slurry wall failure such as on Dec. TVA.
  • Per Hendryx, coal revenues generate £8 billion, though costs the state a point estimate of £50 billion in health care costs.
  • One in 6 women’s wombs bear toxic amounts of mercury per the Center for Disease Control.
  • One million asthma attacks are triggered by particulate matter in the air.
  • There is no way to remove mountain tops without violating the Clean Water Act 1970 before recently coal lobbyists and former EPA administration changed one word in order to protect the coal industry.

Massey CEO Lowers the Bar Keeps Consumers in the Dark

Mr. Blankenship, Massey Energy CEO responded to Kennedy’s charges. He argues:

  • Studies Kennedy cited were “not supported, were emotional rhetoric, untrue, unfortunate.”
  • States that despite reduction of employees, millions still come to the state via Massey payroll/ severance taxes.
  • Claims Australia mines ~ 5 times the coal volume as West Virginia and is “sustainable.”
  • Believes global warming is a hoax. He tells his audience that attacks on coal industry are personal attacks.
  • Points out that there are places in the world with no electricity and lower life expectancy, for example, the life expectancy in Angola is only 37 years.
  • Advises the audience to see Slum Dog Millionaire as a way to appreciate what they have in W VA.

The Coal Companies Do Not Own the Sun

Ralph Nader (1980) in Loose Talk writes, “The use of solar energy has not opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” It could be argued in this case, that the coal companies do not own the sun.

It is not likely that the American solar industry will obtain subsidies anywhere near those given to coal industry. Perhaps Mr. Nader’s solution to this lack of support is what he prescribes in his latest book’s title, Only the Super Rich Can Save Us (Seven Stories Press).

Tim Wildes
Insightful articles on the environment, pollution, energy, recycling, green living, climate change and much more
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