Rather than shift risks from private business to the public to force construction of older and dying technologies, we should be looking at which energy resources offer the least design, construction and operational risks to both the public and private investors and that also can meet electric energy demand reliably.
A good place to start is the Synapse report by the Civil Society Institute. It makes the case for phasing out all coal-fired power and about 25 percent of the nuclear fleet and phasing in aggressive energy efficiency and renewable energy investments to replace that power by 2050.
The greatest saving projected is in the cost of generating electricity. The Transition Scenario harbors other benefits that would reduce cost and health risks to private investors and the public. It would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the electric sector by 81 percent. If we continue with business as usual, emissions rise 28 percent. There is also far less water use in the Transition Scenario.
Finally, the study estimates the creation of 310,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the first decade of the transition to a more sustainable energy sector. The manufacturing base would receive a much needed boost.
Some people will like the fact that net savings over 40 years are projected at $83 billion. That's great news for consumers! Others will embrace the notion that eliminating pollution from dirty coal-fired power plants by 2050 will mean roughly 55,000 fewer premature deaths over the next several decades.
West Virginia is at a crossroads. Coal-based "business as usual" will increasingly be out of phase with the rest of the nation. We could lose critical momentum toward the transition to a clean energy economy. Or West Virginia can line up to support clean energy, create new jobs and infrastructure, lower energy costs, and take a moral high ground for future generations.
We need to start focusing on the bigger issue of our clean energy future and how we get there. It is the responsible path to take.
Johnson, of Dunmore, is co-founder of Christians For The Mountains.