The view that coal is a cheap and reliable energy source is outdated. According to International Energy Agency surveys, coal demand will be increasing in non-OECD countries in the next 5 years. Increase in demand means low reserves, which translates to increase in coal mining activity and in coal prices. 6 countries account for the 80% of coal exports. As the demand increases, coal prices are expected to increase by three-fold, leading to bigger infrastructure bottlenecks in the market.
The Cost of Coal
The fuel cost has the biggest share in the overheads of thermal power plants. The percentage of the fuel cost in a coal-fired thermal power plant is about 60–70%. The cost drivers that determine the overheads in such energy plants are personnel, maintenance and repair, and other operating expenses. For a thermal power plant relying on imported coal, transport and storage of coal and other port fees increase the overhead expenses.
The Dirty Face of Coal
- Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants degrades the quality of water resources in surrounding areas, intoxicates the soil and accumulate in the food chain causing countless fatal diseases.
- Fumes emitted by acid rains caused by coal burning may destroy a whole ecosystem. In Central Europe, losses of wide forest areas around coal-fired power plants were recorded. Acid rain was observed in the 54.5% of 487 cities in China, which has many coal-fired power plants. Acid rain causes countless diseases in humans, notably asthma and lung cancer.
- Coal burning produces harmful particles and radiation. These particles lead to declining in lung function, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and infant deaths.
- Coal combustion waste contains heavy metals and toxic substances. Risks are created when these contaminants come in contact with water sources, surface water bodies, plants or animals. Infertility, cancer, prostate and respiratory diseases, cardiovascular and neurological damages, hypertension and hearing impairments are just a few of the diseases caused by these substances.
- Coal reduces fresh water sources. Toxic substances released from coal-fired power plants contaminate fresh water in immediate areas.
Coal prices constantly increase relative to oil prices.
SAD FACTS ABOUT COAL
Coal-fired thermal power plants are responsible for approximately one-third of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Nevertheless, being the most hazardous fossil fuel causing climate change is not the only vice of coal. The tragedy coal is going to lead to is bigger than that.
Our planet's climate changes rapidly due to coal-dependent countries. And Turkey is a candidate to be one of these dependent countries because of 40 coal-fired thermal power plants, many of which will use imported coal. Yet, there are some sad consequences awaiting such coal-dependent countries. Soil and water toxicity, possible acid rains and erosion are just a few of them...
Due to its high carbon content, using coal in thermal power plants is the most polluting way of power generation in terms of carbon dioxide emission. All over the world coal-fired power plants emit 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.
This amount constitutes 41% of yearly carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Besides, coal mining causes emissions of methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Mercury is a neurotoxin, which seriously harms human body and can be passed down through generations.
Emissions of mercury degrade the quality of water resources, contaminates soil and accumulates in the food chain thereby causing countless fatal diseases.
Coal-fired power plants are the major cause of mercury pollution with 1450 metric tons in a year, a share of 50% of the global mercury pollution.
Smoke released by coal combustion causes acid rain. Acid rain falling from the sky harms ecosystems. In Central Europe, losses of wide forest areas around coal-fired power plants were recorded. Acid rain was observed in the 54.5% of 487 cities in China, which has many coal-fired power plants. Acid rain causes countless diseases in humans, notably asthma and lung cancer.
Coal-fired power plants produce sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions that cause acid rain.
Coal burning produces harmful particles and radiation. These particles lead to declining in lung function, asthma, heart disease and infant deaths.
It was reported that radiation doses found in the 34% of 50 villages in Yatağan is far above the limit that the human body can tolerate and it is 19 times higher than the limit in ash dump sites. (Keskin and Mert, 2002). Respiratory system diseases were encountered in Yatağan at a ratio of more than 2 times the city center in Muğla Province. (TMA (Turkish Medical Association), 2000).
Waste produced by coal burning contains heavy metals and toxic substances. For instance, it may include arsenic, cadmium, chrome and lead in amounts that can harm human health and the environment. Risks are created when these pollutants come in contact with drinking water sources, plants or animals.
Infertility, cancer, prostate and respiratory diseases, cardiovascular and neurological damages, hypertension and hearing disorders are just a few of the diseases caused by these substances.
Toxic substances released from coal-fired power plants pollute fresh water in surrounding areas. And coal mining is one of the causes of water pollution by producing acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD is the wastewater produced as a result of minerals being exposed to oxygen and water and contains heavy metals. This toxic water intoxicates not only the groundwater but also the soil.
In addition to coal-fired power plants causing drought, coal mining requires an estimated 70 to 260 million gallons of water for every day.
Coal mining has adverse impact on local communities and miners. Number of deaths caused by coal mining is many times more than you would guess. For example, nearly 3000 coal mining accidents occurred in 2006 in China.
These accidents led to the deaths of 4700 people. In our country 2670 workers died and 319.792 workers were injured between 1955-2006 just in Zonguldak Province.
The vegetation over mining sites is destroyed. This triggers soil erosion. In mountaintop removal coal mining, mountaintops are blasted in order to reach weak coal seams underground. And underground mining produces underground cavities that may collapse.
Therefore coal mining causes decreases in agricultural potential in its operating area, causes losses in storage capacity of flow reserves, and thus floods become frequent due to decreased river channel capacity, that in turn triggers erosion.
Coal is considered to be cheaper in comparison to other fossil fuels. However, the hidden cost of coal comes from the social costs imposed on third parties. The real cost of coal also includes issues such as health problems it inflicts on local communities and damages to agriculture and decrease in water sources.
Coal reserves in Turkey are mostly classified as lignite; lignite is the type of coal that has the lowest carbon content and the highest moisture percentage. It is highly pollutant and has a low energy value. This makes coal-fired power plants less efficient, makes electricity more expensive and increases social costs.
In other words, exporting coal is utterly pointless. One of the important factors in coal trade is transportation with a ratio of 70%. Increase in oil prices, oil being the fuel used in transportation, causes increase in coal prices.
In global markets, coal prices doubled between 2000-2006. Between May 2007 and May 2008, the spot price per metric ton increased from 70 US Dollars to 150 US Dollars in Europe.
Let's not allow our country to suffer from these sad facts with 50 new coal-fired power plants planned to be built. It is not too late.