February 25, 2014 at 1:00 am


Letter: Coal is an economic loser for Michigan

Coal is not as cheap or as safe as some would argue, Zaski writes. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

In response to Mark J. Perry’s Feb. 19 column “Coal has a future in Michigan,” I would argue the opposite. This outdated, dirty fossil fuel is neither cheap nor here to stay. Clean energy costs less than coal, creates sustainable jobs and protects our health.

Because of Michigan’s over-reliance on coal, we have the highest electricity rates in the Midwest. Michigan utilities pay more for coal delivered to their plants because our state is simply further away from coal mines than many other states. The cost to deliver coal to Michigan has gone up 10 percent per year 2004-2012, and mining costs continue to escalate as coal beds deepen and deplete.

A new annual report by the Michigan Public Service Commission determined that the cost of renewable energy is substantially lower than the cost of a new coal-fired plant.

Clean energy in Michigan is well within reach. Our state’s 2008 renewable energy standard requiring 10 percent renewable energy by 2015 is more than realistic as all Michigan utilities are on track. Corporate giants like Detroit-based DTE energy could invest much more than the minimum requirement, given the economic and health benefits of clean energy.

Indeed, Gov. Rick Snyder’s’ energy report released last October found it would be possible for Michigan to meet a standard of as much as 30 percent renewable energy by 2035. Our regional power transmission operator, the same organization that controls the electric grid in most of Michigan and the Midwest, has also indicated that our state can integrate 30 percent renewable energy without problems.

New wind energy now costs less than half that of coal. In fact, wind-generated electricity is less expensive than any new or combined old fossil fuel electric generation. The most recent wind contracts approved by the MPSC cost $50 to $59 per megawatt hour (the industry way to compare the cost of generating electricity), while a new coal-burning power plant would have a cost of $133 per megawatt hour. Meanwhile energy efficiency remains the most cost-effective source at less than $11 per megawatt hour.

And what about the costs to our health? Researchers have found that pollution from nine of the oldest coal-fired power plants across the state costs Michigan residents $1.5 billion per year in health-related damages. Emissions from coal plants contributes to respiratory, heart and other health problems. The disposal of toxic coal ash from these plants creates more pollution and more health hazards.

No, coal has no future in Michigan.

Frank Zaski, retired Chrysler executive,