California’s dirty coal legacy


Searching for facts on California’s actual coal-fired electricity consumption, I found the Milford et al report “Clearing California’s Coal Shadow from the American West” [PDF]. The latest data therein is 2004, when California’s coal-fired electricity consumption was about 20%. California politicians prefer to quote the “inside California borders” coal burning stats, which according to EIA data was around 1.2% in 2010. The strategy of the politicians has been to drive energy-intensive businesses out of the state, and to outsource the pollution associated with power generation so that other Western states can “enjoy” the coal mining and burning.

Far from the southern California beaches, the movie studios of Hollywood, and the Golden Gate Bridge, a fleet of coal plants in distant western states churns out power for the California market. These coal plants discharge vast quantities of air pollution, consume huge amounts of water and emit destructive global warm- ing gases. Some of the largest mining operations in the United States tear up the land to provide the coal they burn. While the power from these coal plants is transmitted many miles to customers in California, the pollution and environ- mental disturbances stay behind, sending a cascade of human health and environ- mental impacts across the American West and the globe. Although coal-fired electricity production accounts for a smaller share of California’s power mix than it does in other western states, the sheer size of the California market means that the Golden State’s consumption of coal-based power casts a long shadow over the American West.

(…) In 2004, coal plants located in the interior West supplied an estimated 20% of all electricity in California, which is twice the share that comes from renewables. Large quantities of air pollution are discharged from these coal plants.

(…) Coal-fired power plants owned by California utilities also consume precious water in the Southwest. The Navajo Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant each con- sume more than 8 billion gallons of water every year. The environmental footprint of coal-fired power plants further extends to the coal-mining operations that supply them. The Black Mesa-Kayenta mining complex, which supplies the Mohave and Navajo generating stations, is one of the largest strip-mining operations in the United States.