Coal Power Opposition Raises Blackout Possibilities

Published April 1, 2008

The lights may soon go out in the Washington, DC metro area and other parts of the country due to environmental activist opposition to coal-fired power plants, energy analysts are warning.

“Electric power has already become painfully expensive in Washington and its suburbs. Now, local utilities, say, it could become something even worse: scarce,” the Washington Post reported on February 3.

Rolling Blackouts

Maryland may face rolling blackouts as early as 2011 or 2012 on summer days, experts note. The core of the problem: The region’s ability to meet its ever-increasing demand for electricity is being short-circuited by environmental activists doing everything they can to make it as difficult as possible to generate and transmit electrical power.

Environmental activists are calling on governments to force consumers to conserve energy instead of allowing industry to accommodate increasing demand. “The cheapest power plant out there is the one you never have to build,” one activist told the Post.

Cost Increases

In reality, opposition to coal-fired power plants is expected to push electricity prices up rapidly. The New York Times reported on February 5 utilities are turning to natural gas because opponents of coal-burning power plants are stymieing their attempts to build new facilities. The story notes the increased use of natural gas will send prices of that commodity even higher as utilities use more of it to meet rising demand.

Since environmentalist-fomented opposition to coal plants is rising around the country–including a new policy by major banks Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley to discourage coal-plant construction–analysts note utility companies have little choice even though the boom in natural gas demand will send electricity prices even higher.

Tom Tanton, senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, noted even the most cost-efficient alternatives to coal-fired power plants would be more expensive and likely environmentally counterproductive.

“The amount of sticker shock that consumers will face as a result of blocking new and clean coal-fired power plants depends on numerous factors, such as current and future grid portfolio, demand growth, and age of current fleet,” Tanton said.

“Nevertheless, price increases of perhaps 10 to 25 percent can be expected,” Tanton continued. “At the same time, the construction of cleaner and cheaper new facilities will be thwarted, and reductions in criteria pollutants–nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter–will be slowed as reliance on the existing fleet of power plants continues.”

Steven Milloy ([email protected]) is an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the publisher of