Apparently cheap electricity from coal-fired power plants is at least twice as expensive as it seems when the costs of illness and death from air pollution are factored in, according to a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation report. These billions of dollars in health-related costs from coal pollution, if accounted for, would make clean energy, from wind and solar power, more economically competitive.
The report, “A Coal Plant’s Drain on Health and Wealth,” examines a proposal by the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) to construct the largest coal-fired power plant ever built in Virginia: the 1,500 megawatt Cypress Creek Power Station in Dendron, about 40 miles west from the populous Hampton Roads metropolitan area in southeast Virginia.
Microscopic soot-like particles from the plant’s smokestacks would cause a projected 26 premature deaths a year, as well as 23 asthma emergency room visits, 40 heart attacks, 442 asthma attacks, 3,340 lost work days, and 19,903 days a year in which people will have to reduce their activities because they are sick, according to energy industry analyst David Schoengold, who used pollution figures supplied by the power company.
The total cost to society of these illnesses and deaths would be about $208 million a year –- or more than $6 billion over 30 years, according to the CBF report.
“This air pollution would have a substantial negative impact on many citizens in this area with asthma,” said Dr. Stephen W. Shield (pictured at right), an asthma and allergy specialist who practices in Newport News and is quoted in the CBF report. “Virginia already ranks number six in the nation for mortality from air pollution, and another coal fired power plant -– particularly in such a populous area -- would make us shoot up that list even further.”