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Come Saturday Morning: The Invisible Hand

Looks like Wall Street is finally seeing the hidden costs of coal:

Natural-gas and renewable power projects have leapt ahead of coal in the development pipeline, according to Global Energy Decisions, a Boulder, Colo., energy information supplier. Gas and renewables each show more than 70,000 megawatts under development compared with about 66,000 megawatts in the coal-power pipeline.

This year could diminish coal’s future prospects even more. Wall Street investment banks last month said they will now evaluate the cost of carbon emissions before approving power plants, raising the bar much higher for new coal projects, analysts say.

“What you’re seeing is a de facto moratorium on coal power right now,” says Robert Linden, a senior oil and gas analyst at Pace Global in New York. “You turn off the money spigot, you’ve turned off those plants.”

When the banks are skittish about the hidden costs of coal, that means things aren’t looking too good for it. And the Feds are getting into the act, too:

In another big victory in the fight against the coal rush, the feds apparently suspended a major loan program that provided rural electric cooperatives with subsidized loans to construct new coal-fired power plants.

An official with the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which manages the loan program, cited the uncertainties of climate change and rising construction costs as the reasons for the programs suspension.

Another thing the banks must be noticing: The likelihood, verging on certainty, that solar technology will be consistently cheaper than coal in another five years. With the advent of printed thin-film solar panels that provide energy for $1 a watt — the same cost as coal before all of coal’s hidden costs are factored in — suddenly solar isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the cost-effective thing to do. (And wind power’s coming along nicely, too.)

Nice to see that for once, the Invisible Hand isn’t giving us all the finger. 

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention this, but Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have for years invested their money in Nanosolar, the firm that’s making and selling those $1-a-watt solar panels.  Give them a hug if you happen to see them on the street. 

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