Coal might be messy, smelly, bad for the environment and bad for health outcomes, but it does have one advantage: it's cheap.
But the price of coal itself is only part of the cost of burning up those little black rocks. Those air quality, health and climate consequences of have a cost, too—often paid, ultimately, by taxpayers. These extra costs are not usually lumped in with the price of the fuel itself, but according to the Guardian, accounting for these other factors causes the cost of coal to shoot way up.
In fact, says the Guardian, when incorporating the second-order costs for range of fuel sources, the ranking of economic efficiency gets shuffled around, and a new leader—wind, of all things—rises to the top.
According to a new report from the European Commission, says the Guardian:
[F]or every megawatt hour (MW/h) of electricity generated, onshore wind costs roughly €105 (£83) per MW/h, compared to gas and coal which can cost up to around €164 and €233 per MW/h, respectively.
Nuclear power, offshore wind and solar energy are all comparably inexpensive generators, at roughly €125 per MW/h.
The societal costs of fossil fuel use, says Brian Merchant for Motherboard, can actually be quite expensive:
EPA researchers found that fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) cost the nation up to $886.5 billion each year. It's hard to stress just how bad coal, gas, and oil emissions are for the environment, and for public health—and how insane it is that, for the most part, we give these legacy polluters a free pass for the damage they do.
As Smart News has written before, renewable energy is already showing itself to be viable on a mass scale, and most new energy infrastructure currently in planning or under construction is for renewables.