For the past three weeks I have been part of a teacher summer program where we tour businesses and industries with an eye towards two things:
1. Where the jobs are, and
2. How to prepare our students for them.
Today we toured a coal-burning power plant that supplies electricity to 225,000 households in Atlantic County, NJ.
The good news is that the pollution controls on these plants (at least here in the US of A) are pretty damned dependable.
The bad news is, we're still building and running these things, fueling them with ancient fire from the ground.
There's no shortage of coal in America. But getting to it has always been a problem, in lives lost and wages paid, in health ruined, and now -- traumatically -- in the mowing down of mountains.
The men (and trust me on this, it's 95 percent men) who run power plants are quick to point out that solar and wind are statistically insignificant in their support of our needy power grid. The guy today at the coal plant put it this way, "Oh sure, it's great to have wind turbines, but if you're getting prepped for surgery and the wind stops blowing, what then?"
On a related note, one can still get hired at coal-burning power plants without a high school diploma.
As an environmentalist, I have concerns about wind-generated power. I think the turbines can be dangerous for migratory birds. Migration patterns should be studied carefully for a number of years before wind turbines are placed off the Eastern Seaboard.
But once those bird paths are mapped, gosh. Correct me if I'm wrong, but does the wind ever stop blowing out over the ocean? Please tell me! This seems ludicrous to me. Not that I'm any experienced sea-goer, but the shoreline has never, ever been wind-free when I've been there. In fact there's a breeze at the seaside even when not a blade of grass is stirring on the mainland.
Coal-fired power plants are efficient and running because people make a profit from the digging of the coal, the shipping of the coal, and the burning of the coal. And yes, that means jobs (rare ones that do not require a high school diploma). But once a windmill is up and running, it may not need as many humans to feed its maw, but I don't think it will lack the breeze to push it around. It just won't be as profitable as the fossil fuels we use now.
Anyway, I got to look into the furnace at the plant and see the amazing jets of fire that create the steam that run the turbine. It was a fascinating sight (needed a face shield and protective clothing). What I really hope I was looking at was a fossil. Not the coal, but the generator. We can do better.