Be part of the solution: Chipping away at coal

Published 04/19 2010 01:35PM

Updated 05/22 2014 09:35AM

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

coal plant Braden Gunem Dreamstime

Coal-fired power plant (Photo: Braen Gunem/Dreamstime.)

Sitting in a heap atop the list of climate change offenders is coal. Coal-burning power plants account for 20 percent of all carbon emissions worldwide. Their smokestacks spew sulfur and nitrogen dioxide as well, contributing to the stew of greenhouse gases that are heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

Despite the growth of renewable energy sources, coal remains the single largest provider of power for America, at 45 percent. And its toxic footprint doesn’t end with air pollution. The industry’s waste, leftover ash, is laced with metal oxides.

Thousands of coal-fired power plants are chugging away around the world, poisoning the air –  all day, every day.

Around coal mines, runoff carries pollutants and heavy metals that befoul waterways and contaminate fish. The environmental nightmare caused by blasting away mountaintops to reach coal (known as Mountain Top Removal or MTR) has compromised dozens of mountains in Appalachia, deforested the land, smothered streams and valleys, stripped the soil and left tons of waste in its wake. Of course, there are the well-known health and safety threats to those who work inside mines.

Coal is cheap for energy companies, and it has been historically plentiful, but the Earth pays a steep price for it. A National Academy of Sciences report places a $62 billion price tag on coal's environmental toll annually.

What's your part in this? You can find out how much of your power comes from coal at the Environmental Protection Agency's Power Profiler.

This problem is so large, surely one person can't make a difference. Wrong – everything starts with someone, and today that someone could be you.

Here are 6 ways that you can conserve energy and decrease the use of coal.

Aerial view of a mountain top removal operation (Photo: Appalachian Voices)

Aerial view of a mountain top removal operation (Photo: Appalachian Voices; flight courtesy Southwings)

1. Buy Green Power. You may be able to buy green power and don't even know it. The U.S. Department of Energy provides a map and links to various power providers who can offer more environmentally clean sources of electricity. If you can't get green power directly, you can buy Renewable Energy Certificates that will go toward defraying the cost of more-expensive green energy. RECs help support clean energy being used elsewhere on the grid, when none is locally available.

2. Get Conservative at Home. The smart folk at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have a Home Energy Saver tool that lets you bore deeply into potential energy savings at your home.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy also has a consumer checklist to help people make immediate changes to save energy — and use less coal — such as turning down the setting on your water heater to warm, caulking leaky windows, switching out incandescent light bulbs to CFLs (or LEDs) and changing dirty HVAC filters so the system runs efficiently.

3. Buy Energy Star. Starting with refrigerators, which can take the biggest energy gulp of all household appliances, to computers and TVs and assorted electronic gadgets, almost everything that plugs in (and a few things that don’t, like windows) is now assessed by Energy Star, the joint project of the EPA and DOE to help tamp down power use. The energy savings adds up.

4. UnPlug. Your house (and everyone else's) may be the single worst energy glutton going, but did you know that more than 5 percent of your home's energy can be sapped daily by computers and TVs and video-game players and all your other electronic gear – when they're not being used. Just pushing the off button doesn't stop the energy drain. Unplug them when you can. Use a power strip on entertainment centers to turn the whole set-up off when it’s not in use. Cell phones charged? Unplug them.

5. Hang It Out. Still in the mood to save money? Try a clothes line. Or put a line or rack in the garage if you think the neighbors might scowl. Your clothes dryer uses a lot of electricity (making things hot uses more power than making things cold). Reduce your dryer use, and remember to wash your clothes in cold water or get a front-loading washing machine and you will save several hundred dollars a year.

6. Cover It Up. The biggest home-energy wasters? Pool and spa pumps and heaters. Just getting a pool cover to preserve the water's warmth will immediately shave off hundreds of dollars from the cost of heating. Downsize to a smaller, more efficient pump and you'll save even more.  Install a timer to minimize how long the pump operates saves more.

Keep the pool a few degrees lower and there's more money. When its time to replace the pool heater, go with a solar pool heater and get a pleasant sticker shock at the sight of your energy bill. All of this and more is on the government's Energy Savers site.

Bonus points: Buy a home energy monitor. You can find some for around $130 and you can keep constant, real time tabs on your electricity use. This story provides more details about home energy management.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

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