NewEnergyNews: NY A.G. INVESTIGATES DIRTY COAL FOR TRUE COSTS

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    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    NY A.G. INVESTIGATES DIRTY COAL FOR TRUE COSTS

    Coal is the cheapest source of electricity right now – ABSENT the cost of emissions. If and when laws are passed requiring coal plants to have “clean” coal retrofittings or to pay for emissions, it may turn out to be a much worse investment than wind or solar.

    And investors in coal companies should be advised that a northeast regional states group and a western states group are already banding together to cap-and-trade emissions, the first step in driving the cost of coal-fired electricity to its true costs.


    New York Subpoenas 5 Energy Companies
    Felicity Barringer and Danny Hakim, September 15, 2007 (NY Times)

    WHO
    New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, AES Corporation, Dominion, Dynegy, Peabody Energy and Xcel Energy

    It is cheap and it is always ready to burn. Why wouldn't it be in demand in an energy-ravenous world? Oh yeah -- because burning it costs more than we think. (click to enlarge)

    WHAT
    The A.G. will investigate whether the energy companies, by failing to inform investors of risks involved in the development of coal-fired power plants due to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), are guilty of misleading investors.

    WHEN
    - Subpoenas were issued September 14.
    - Coal power plants now generate half of US electricity and 30% of US GHG emissions.
    - Natural gas will fuel most new power plants until 2009, when coal will take over.

    WHERE
    Cuomo’s authority is limited to New York state but the reach of the energy companies investigated is national. International, actually.

    WHY
    - It is rare, if not unique, to use of a securities law (disclosure to shareholders of risk) in pursuit of an environmental goal (the reduction of GHG emissions). Opponents object to the use of the strategy because the law allowing the subpoenas requires no proof of wrongdoing yet raises questions about those investigated.
    - The 1st step in Cuomo’s investigation is the subpoenaing of documents.
    - More than 100 new coal-fired power plants are being planned for the US. Cuomo’s move is in support of activism by shareholders and state officials in New York state (and throughout the northeast) and in California (and on the west coast) against them.

    Doesn't anybody have a better idea than coal?

    QUOTES
    - A.G. letter to energy companies: “Any one of the several new or likely regulatory initiatives for CO2 emissions from power plants — including state carbon controls, E.P.A.’s regulations under the Clean Air Act, or the enactment of federal global warming legislation — would add a significant cost to carbon-intensive coal generation…Selective disclosure of favorable information or omission of unfavorable information concerning climate change is misleading.”
    - Cuomo: “The concept here is using the securities laws to investigate whether the economic risks of these plants are being disclosed — the economic risks which are dovetailing with the environmental concerns… This is a very straightforward, consistent use of the act because it’s about disclosure to investors.”
    - Dan Bakal, environmental advocate: “This ratchets up the pressure on companies to provide more information as the risks become more and more material…”
    - Vic Svec, spokesman, Peabody Energy: “[Peabody includes climate change disclosures] in multiple places…[the New York action is] outrageous…The legal system was designed to protect — not harass — those such as Peabody who are providing clean energy solutions for America.”
    - Mary Sandok, spokeswoman, Dynegy: “The plant under construction in Colorado is being built under an agreement we reached with national, state and local environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense. Our financial disclosures are adequate.”

    (Nuclear also looks cheap until the hidden costs -- like unacknowledged health impacts, the burden of security, risk management and waste handling -- are considered. Reader Rob C. calls attention to a website arguing for the economic viability of nuclear. Although NewEnergyNews disagrees, this post is about coal and a debate about nuclear is for another day. Thanks, Rob C., for keeping us on point. )

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