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Strategies, Tactics, Arguments and Actions in a Campaign Against Coal Plants

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

The following is a short list of potential stakeholders and decision makers, delivery methods and arguments to be used in fighting coal plants. The idea is to take action and communicate the right messages to the multiple people who can directly and indirectly influence coal plant and alternatives decisions.

Develop and prioritize a list of coal plant decision makers and stakeholders

  • The utilities themselves through their executives and other employees, boards, co-op boards, municipal leaders, shareholders, etc.
  • State and federal regulators involved
  • Local, state and federal legislators, administrators, mayors, council members, and other officials
  • All ratepayers including; residential, commercial and industrial, public and private institutions (Identify top electric users in the service area.)
  • Potential financiers for the coal plant
  • Utility industry analysts
  • Groups potentially representing ratepayers (ABATE, AARP, environmental justice, business associations)
  • Groups with environmental, health and coal plant related issues (environmental groups, physicians, nurses, asthma, heart, home owners associations, religious groups, etc.)
  • Unions supporting green jobs
  • General public
  • Other

Arguments to be used against coal plants

  • Question the data and assumptions of their electric demand forecasts. Have the latest economic, demographic, renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand and load reduction measures and other technology, trends and mandates been included in the forecast?
  • Question the announced cost and type of coal plant. Coal plant construction costs continue to rise. Utilities tend to underestimate and purposely not update construction costs. CFB type coal plants require considerable (and usually more than available) biomass. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is very costly and not proven.
  • Coal prices will rise at a rate much higher than inflation. Usually, coal plant proposals assume relatively stable coal price projections. However, Appalachian coal fields are in decline. Studies indicate Powder River Basin (PRB) coal reserves are way overstated. US peak coal could occur within 25 years. Considerable PRB rail congestion is expected to remain for years. Coal transportation costs are rising quickly. Diesel fuel (needed for extraction and transport) is a large part of the cost of delivered coal. And, rapidly increasing exports of US coal are putting upward pressure on coal prices.
  • Present energy efficiency trends. New lighting, appliances, heating, cooling, industrial motors, buildings, demand response, load management, etc. are becoming increasingly more efficient and will probably do so for generations.
  • Present renewable energy trends. The technology is evolving quickly and costs are generally declining.
  • Question the estimated coal plant water usage and impact on local supply, future aquifer levels, water discharge, etc.
  • Job creation is too often the number one argument for building an unnecessary coal plant among builders unions, politicians and others. Question the announced number of jobs this plant will create during and after construction. How many out of state and non-union laborers will work on this project? How many actual person-hours? Present data and studies showing the large number of EE and RE jobs already created and that could be creates by going to coal plant alternatives.
  • After EE and RE alternatives are exhausted, has the utility considered alternatives to building their own coal plant such as long term purchase agreements with other electric generators, buying a share of an existing coal plant, building a natural gas electric plant, building storage to help meet peak demand, etc.
  • Present the total cost of coal’s impact on human health, plants, animals, environment, global warming, especially the negative impacts on the local community and state
  • A large number of entities have taken GHG reduction actions. The fact that many well know companies and others have stated global warming is a major threat and are taking actions to reduce GHGs, can be convincing to others. These groups include: many businesses, banks, insurance companies, the Pentagon, CIA, CBO, health and religious organizations.
  • A multi-billion dollar coal plant could pose substantial financial risks to co-op members, their boards and municipal governments. Directors and officers might be personally liable for non-disclosure of costs and risks associated with this project.

Select the most effective ways to deliver the message to stakeholders

Consider: emails, letters, phone calls, door-to-door, meetings, petitions, protests, PR releases, LTEs, op-eds, articles, editorial board reviews, shareholder's resolutions, media appearances, posters, advertising, speakers bureau,

Some Strategies and Tactics

  • Set-up conditions that would make a coal plant unlikely to be proposed in the first place by promoting and legislating higher levels of energy efficiency (EE), renewable energy (RE), CO2 and other pollution control, etc. at the local, state and federal levels.
  • Stop a proposed coal plant by convincing stakeholders and decision makers that a new coal plant is not the best alternative among all alternatives including conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, etc.
  • Develop strong arguments in favor of alternatives and against coal plants. These arguments (many listed above) include challenging the need for the plant, demand forecast, plant and coal costs and presenting total impacts, an alternative’s analysis, etc.
  • Inform and motivate people, businesses and institutions to ask the right questions such as:
    • Have all alternatives to this coal plant been thoroughly investigated? What are the results?
    • Based on current costs, how much will this new coal plant increase our monthly electric bills? (There are many examples of a new coal plant causing 25% to 40% plus rate increases.)
    • Have a reputable consultant calculate the monthly rate increase needed to fund this plant. Most often, utilities will not make this number public until the plant is approved. They are fearful that the unexpectedly large rate increase would work against them. It is important to have this number calculated for all ratepayer classes, residential (rich and especially poor), commercial and industrial and them publicized.
  • Encourage companies, with strong CO2 footprint goals, and facilities within the proposed coal plant service area, to be active in opposing the plant and encouraging green alternatives. Another coal plant could hurt their CO2 reduction goals.
  • Inform potential lending institutions for the coal plant of the many risks and alternatives associated with this plant. Utilities may conveniently omit information not favoring their proposal.
  • Use legal actions to prohibit or delay the coal plant.
  • Constantly petition local, state and federal authorities with strong no-coal arguments.

Resources

References

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