Coal Fired Power in Oregon

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Coal. The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal. We've got more coal than just about anybody. Half the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal. Today, more than 90 percent of the coal used in America goes to make electricity, according to an NPR documentary on coal.

NPR Radioworks documentary on coal

But coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, causing climate change. It interferes with groundwater and water table levels. It causes acid rain and has a host of other issues.

Global CO2 Emissions

In the Northwest, we're lucky to not be dependent on coal. But it's cheap and plentiful. Coal is not going away.

The coal pie
Normalized energy prices
Coal plants generate power for three cents a kilowatt hour. "Clean coal" isn't a type of coal but a process to clean it up, capturing particulates and green-house emitting carbon dioxide. It's an expensive process.

Clean coal costs 6 cents a kilowatt hour.

Most renewable projects, like wind and solar, are in the range of 15 to 20 cents a kilowatt hour.

In the United States, electricity generation accounts for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the largest of any source.

Millenium Bulk Logistics is backtracking – though not giving up – on its China coal export facility in Longview, WA. China has lots of coal - but it's up north. It's believed to be cheaper to ship coal from Utah and Montana to Longview, then across the Pacific Ocean. The proposed export facility would ship 5 million tons of coal to Asia annually, an amount said to be roughly equal to the amount of coal burned in the whole state of Washington, reports SustainableBusinessOregon. Millennium, a subsidiary of Australia's Ambre Energy, plans to build the first major U.S. export terminal on the West Coast in Longview.

Boardman coal fired power plant
The Boardman coal-fired plant accounts for 15 percent of the power provided by PGE, Oregon's largest electric utility. Pacific Power's share of coal is 40%, according to Washington State's online reports (pdf).

Facebook’s data center in Prineville, Oregon is receiving a “green” backlash since its electric utility, Pacific Power, will likely be getting most of its power from a coal-powered generator in Boardman, Oregon.

Boardman coal field
The company avoided tiered energy rates, due to a formula used by the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that operates dams on the Columbia River and sells the power at cost to utilities. Pacific Power will get most of its electricity from the nearby Boardman coal-fired plant.

Coal is still powering the United States:

Obama: "This is America. We figured out how to put a man on the moon in ten years. You can't tell me we can't figure out how to burn coal, that we mine right here in the United States of America, and make it work. We can do that".

Soren Wheeler of RadioLab takes us to Butte Montana, home of the Berkeley Pit. Artist Edward Burtynsky produced a documentary film called Manufactured Landscapes.