Cleaning up coal energy

The urge to return to coal should be resisted, but we can’t depend on government action.

Renewable energy is perhaps the most popular phrase in Minnesota right now, and it is certainly a welcome one. However, before we start enthusiastically patting ourselves on the back, it might be good to remind ourselves of one little fact: Half of this country’s electricity still comes from coal. We are now entering a strange period as we must balance the affordability of coal with our new emphasis on renewable energy. With more than 150 coal power plants planned for construction in the United States, it is unclear if their fate will be altered due to a recent business agreement and America’s newfound love for the environment.

Last week, a Texas-based utility company was the center of an unusual negotiation. The TXU Corporation was involved in a buyout by several new investors that were aiming to spruce up their environmental image. As the buyout was being negotiated, several prominent environmental groups were invited to join the talks and an agreement was reached that scrapped plans for building eight new coal plants.

It will be interesting to see if the format of the TXU buyout sets a precedent of collaboration between businesses and environmentalists. Environmental organizations have never been so popular, and winning their approval can be a huge boost for a company’s public image. Traditional enemies of environmentalists, such as car and oil companies, have taken out numerous ads in high-profile publications to proclaim their devotion to Mother Nature.

The urge to return to coal should be resisted, but we can’t depend on the government to take action. The TXU agreement represents the best option. When corporations voluntarily seek out environmental groups for approval, a true revolution can begin sweeping through our polluting industries. The natural demand for green methods is driving America’s markets right now, and it is essential for consumers to maintain this expectation.