What if the debate about Environmental Protection Agency limits on climate-disrupting carbon pollution was all hot air? What if the falling cost of clean energy has already planted a stake in coal's polluting heart?
As Erin Ailsworth of the Boston Globe reports, a big new onshore wind contract just signed in New England is a game-changer for how we talk about energy:
The state’s biggest utilities, in a milestone for New England’s wind power industry, have signed long-term contracts to buy wind-generated electricity at prices below the costs of most conventional sources, such as coal and nuclear plants.For a comparison, in the same time frame gas is projected to cost 7 cents/KWH, coal 10 cents/KWH and nuclear 11 cents/KWH.
The contracts, filed jointly Friday with the Department of Public Utilities, represent the largest renewable energy purchase to be considered by state regulators at one time. If approved, the contracts would eventually save customers between 75 cents and $1 a month, utilities estimated. [...]
The utilities — National Grid, Northeast Utilities, and Unitil Corp. — would buy 565 megawatts of electricity from six wind farms in Maine and New Hampshire, enough to power an estimated 170,000 homes. The projects, in various stages of permitting or development, are expected to begin operations between 2014 and 2016.
John Howat, senior energy analyst at the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, said he needed to review the details before he could provide a thorough assessment of the contracts. But his initial reaction to the price — on average, less than 8 cents per kilowatt hour? “Wow.”
A dollar a month may not seem like a lot. But if wind is cheaper than coal & nuclear, why would you ever build a new coal-fired or nuclear power plant? And that's not even starting to account for all the climate change, public health and wildlife benefits that come with switching from coal to wind. When the cost of pollution is factored in, both wind and solar power blow the doors off of coal and are competitive with gas.
Why should we go all-in on wind when gas is projected to be slightly cheaper? Because New England is already dangerously dependent on gas, leaving us vulnerable to price spikes like we saw last winter. And since gas plants can fire up much faster than coal plants, gas and wind actually go very well together. (No, that was not a fart joke. Let's keep moving.)
In this context, the hot air being spewed in Washington over carbon regulations seems quaint at best. At worst, it's a war on consumers as polluters and their allies try to force us to keep buying expensive, dirty energy.