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Why on Earth Does the US Government Still Use Coal?

The United States Government still heats many of its facilities directly with coal.  That’s right…coal.  Why would they do that?  The current administration touts renewable energy as the only viable energy of the future, one to which we must commit, one which is subsidized by those of us who still actually pay taxes.

The table below (data downloaded from US Office of Energy and Renewable Energy) offers a clue.  Coal is cheap.  At least when it comes to energy, the Federal government is trying to save the taxpayer a few dollars.  The table below illustrates just how economical coal-fired facilities can be – in fact, relative to renewable energy, providing the federal government with energy using coal is less than one third the price of renewable electricity per BTU.

Federal Government Facility FY 2012 Energy Use – Data as of 6/14/13

Federal Government Facility FY 2012 Energy Use

United States taxpayers already subsidize renewable energy on the generator side and congress continues to create new laws for the coal-fired energy industry driving coal production costs ever higher.  Interestingly, the Energy Department lists the purchase price for the “other renewable” category – whatever that means – as “zero.”

If our government would invest in clean coal and clean fossil fuel-power technology (yes, there is such a thing as Germany’s Vattenfall will tell you) and use coal instead of the far more glamorous “renewable electric” power, our government could save money and the environment.  Even today, our government could have purchased 274 billion BTUs of additional power for what we spent on renewable electricity purchases in 2012 had they used coal.

What if we used coal to fuel all federal facility energy needs?  The US taxpayer could have reduced by 75% of the federal government’s 2012 energy budget.  If we are looking to do something to benefit future generations, perhaps we could use those savings to reduce our national debt.

About the Author
Gerald L. Kirkpatrick, P.G. is a Principal Geoscientist and the Managing Partner of Environmental Standards, Inc.  Mr. Kirkpatrick has more than 30 years of applied environmental geoscience experience in both private industry and environmental consulting. Outside of work, Gerry enjoys fishing and an occasional single malt.  A very poor chess player, he remains dedicated to the game, nonetheless.