Is Coal Expansion Imminent?

A reader of EarthTalk posed an interesting question a few weeks back - does the expansion of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles mean an increased reliance on coal?

Certainly if more and more of our sources of transportation utilize electricity instead of gasoline, that will increase the amount of electricty the United States uses. So where does that electricity come from? Looking towards the future there are two important benefits of shifting towards electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. First, it decreases our reliance and consumption of foreign oil, which has multiple environmental, economic, and political benefits. Second, it sets up the potential for our transportation industry to be powered primarily with alternative energy.

Right now, though, the infrastructure is not in place to power our transportation industry primarily with alternative energy. That is not a problem now because there are not enough electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road for this to be an issue. But what if the transportation industry grows faster than the alternative energy industry?

On the EarthTalk article, it was argued that perhaps a temporary expansion of coal would be necessary to meet the growing electricity needs of this country. Currently, coal accounts for more than half the electricity in the United States. New coal plants continue to open around the country, including one in Northeastern Wyoming just yesterday, one of just six in the area.

Coal may be our most abundant resource, but it is also the biggest contributor to global warming. Is it really worth it to expand such a destructive yet necessary industry so that we can put more electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road. Or, should we wait for the alternative energy infrastructure to be in place before we expand the transportation industry?

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