I was all set for a week of blogs on my favorite theme–why fossil fuels suck–when I learned that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted to shutter ALL of of Denver’s coal-burning power plants by 2017. The move will cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 86%. Nitrogen oxide (aka “smog” and “soot”) causes and worsens all kinds of respiratory ailments and causes the formation of acid rain which contaminates water bodies. Among the list of health impacts of nitrogen oxide is “premature death”–need I say more?
That’s the good news for Denver residents. That and the fact that the switchover will only cost ratepayers about $1.40 a month. The bad news is that the power plants are switching over to (drumroll please)….solar? No. Wind? No? Wave energy? (Obviously not). Nuclear? (sigh of relief…No). And the winner is….natural gas.
Natural gas is touted as a clean energy source. But truth be told, natural gas is about as clean as my living room after a 3-way toddler playdate. 90% of new natural gas wells utilize “fracking”, which involves injecting insane amounts of water plus a cocktail of toxic chemicals into impermeable rock to free up the natural gas. The chemicals and gas leak into waterways and aquifers and are very difficult for wastewater treatment plants to process. In Pennsylvania, the Fracking State, residents watch as their wells spontaneously combust and brown water pours from their taps. In one neighborhood, analysis of the water revealed that residents were basically drinking methane. (Check out this article in Vanity Fair for more on the horrors of fracking). With conventional natural gas supplies running out, the future is fracking.
Even conventional natural gas extraction is far from clean and green — it has to be drilled (often in wilderness areas), processed, and transported. Along the way, some of it leaks out, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Conventional natural gas production may look green compared to fracking and coal mining, but it’s still a dirty business indeed.
Denver residents don’t need to wait until 2017 to ditch coal. They can start leasing solar panels today, and say good riddance to Ole’ King Coal and his gassy entourage.