Coal's Hidden Costs Level the Playing Field for Renewable Energy

It comes as no surprise to anyone that there are societal costs associated with the use of fossil fuels. In economics, they refer to externalities, which at in the simplest terms means the cost (or benefits) of an activity that is not transmitted through prices.

Now, a Harvard researcher has done work to try to put a price on the "hidden costs" associated with the use of coal in the United States. According to work done by Paul Epstein, a Harvard Medical School instructor and the associate director of its Center for Health and the Global Environment, those costs amount to around $345 billion per year.

According to the study:

Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of nonfossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive. Link to Abstract



In an article published by Reuters, some of those costs include health problems in mining communities and pollution around power plants.

The estimate of hidden costs takes into account a variety of side-effects of coal production and use. Among them are the cost of treading elevated rates of cancer and other illnesses in coal-mining areas, environmental damage and lost tourism opportunities in coal regions where mountaintop removal is practiced and climate change resulting from elevated emissions of carbon dioxide from burning the coal.



Read the full article by Scott Malone on the Reuter's site.


The full study is being published by the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences. A copy of an illustrated brochure with more information is available here.