Alabama Power’s Coal-Fired Plant Blamed for Premature Deaths

As a country, America enjoys a high standard of living.  One perk of a high standard of living is the power of electricity.  Americans enjoy having electricity at the flick of a finger to run our electrical appliances, sources of entertainment, light up and cool our homes, and so forth.  This easy access to electrical power comes at a price and that price is air pollution and one power plant in Alabama is in the news for just that reason.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) released a report which found that pollution from Alabama Power’s coal-fired power plant in Greene County contributes to between 49 and 100 premature deaths a year.  These deaths cost society up to three times higher than the value of the electricity produced by the plant according to calculations  made by EIP.  The EIP, uses a value for human life when weighing the cost against the benefit of a regulation.

The Greene County plant has already received national news because of its ranking in the top fifty sulfur dioxide emissions among plants without modern pollution controls.  Power has spent $1.7 billion installing scrubbers at other plants, but the Greene County plant has not yet been updated.  Scrubbers use limestone to pull pollutants, mainly sulfur, out of emissions from coal-burning power plants before allowing the now clean air to escape into the atmosphere.  Even though, coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before, and pollution emissions from these types of plants will continue to fall as technology improves, the future of energy seems to be pointed in a different direction.

Alabama Power spokesman, Michael Sznajderman, has said that the company is considering its option with the plant and that future environmental regulations will likely force changes at plants that have not been updated with modern pollution controls.  One option for older coal-fired plants is to update to natural gas, which still produces nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide when burned, but in lower quantities than burning coal.  With the industry looking forward to tougher emission controls, there is a shift to building new gas-fired plants  instead of coal-fired plants.  The new state-of-the-art gas plants will result in an estimated 60% reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions rate and a more than 95% decreased in the nitrogen-oxides emissions rate, a 100% decrease in mercury emissions and an almost 100% decrease in the sulfur-dioxides rate which should greatly decrease the rate for premature deaths.