Peabody Energy Envisions Golden Age for Coal

“Energy access is a human right and a rapidly rising need“, said Peabody Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Gregory H. Boyce, who spoke at CERAWeek, 2011.  Boyce presented coal as the fuel to provide for global energy demand into the future.  Just for the four days of the conference Boyce highlighted that 70 million tons of coal would be used globally.

Access to energy supplied responsibly is, with little question, essential in society today and should be available.  Classifying access to energy as a right creates the illusion that that access to energy is on the same level as the right to clean air and water, among others.  Globally 3.6 billion people have limited access or no access at all to electricity, according to Boyce.

Prior to providing electricity to these 3.6 billion people, they should be informed about the options available to them.  If informed, it is not likely that these people would knowingly sacrifice clean air, clean water, the health of the environment and the public for continual access to electricity.  Particularly when the same electricity can be provided by clean and sustainable sources like solar, wind, and hydro.

Oh, You’re Using “that” Definition of Sustainable

Peabody Energy posted a press release correlating with Boyce’s presentation stating: “Coal is the only sustainable fuel, at scale, that can meet the world's growing electricity needs.”  Peabody Energy seems to have a firm grasp on the message that language or a specific word can provide.  Peabody Energy changed their name from Peabody Coal though they still only work with coal.  Peabody believes “black is the new green”.

There is an adage that advises upon realizing you’re are digging yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.  Peabody presents alternatives like solar and wind as not being ready to meet global demand.  Boyce presented the growth of coal consumption as having almost doubled in the last 10 years with projections of the same in the next decade.  This rate considerably outpaces every other fuel source.

Peabody presents coal as the affordable and readily available fuel source for the globe.  Coal is “affordable” only because the external costs of damage to the environment and public health are not included.  If coal is so readily available, why is it shipped from North America to Asia and Europe?

Technological advances in carbon capture and sequestration are needed to make coal the clean alternative Peabody wants it to be.  These advancements will take considerable investments.  Peabody is a partner in China’s GreenGen coal plant which claims it will be a near-zero emissions plant.  Many environmental groups are skeptical of the claim and are waiting for proof.  The considerable investments needed to make coal cleaner would be significant if applied to renewable technologies like solar and wind.  The need for significant investment on both sides greatly reduces any momentum coal has today.

Photo Credit: Anna Uciechowska