PPL Montana spokesman Gordon Criswell recently penned an apology for the Colstrip coal-fired power plant. The Colstrip juggernaut is the eighth largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the nation and a major source of a host of other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain), particulate matter (small particles that travel to the depths of people’s lungs, causing serious respiratory injury) and mercury (a potent neurotoxin).
But as Criswell points out, Colstrip provides a lot of electricity. The question is: Do the benefits of the electricity from Colstrip justify its costs? If so, maybe we should keep the plant running despite the pollution and even though it’s nearly a half-century old. If not, maybe we should close the behemoth.
Contrary to Criswell’s suggestion, the answer to whether to keep Colstrip running is a resounding “no.” The power from Colstrip doesn’t justify the harm its pollution visits on our state. Two recent studies—Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal, by the late Paul Epstein of Harvard, and Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States, by William Nordhaus of Yale—demonstrate that coal costs our economy $345 billion to $500 billion annually and that coal-generated electricity’s costs exceed its benefits. Coal only stays in business by pushing those costs onto our health and ecosystems.
If Colstrip had to pay for its pollution, it wouldn’t be competitive. It’s time we close the clunker and replace it with cheaper, cleaner and faster renewables and energy efficiency.