GUEST COMMENTARY: MU's coal plant pollutes communities from Columbia to southern Illinois

Thursday, April 26, 2012 | 1:48 p.m. CDT

Do you know where MU gets its coal?

Missouri? Nope. Kansas? Guess again.

MU gets its coal from Knight Hawk Coal in southern Illinois, about 200 miles from Columbia. That's right, not only are we sending all that revenue out of state, but we're also putting a burden on the communities of southern Illinois who suffer from the pollution and degradation from that coal mining.

With about 80 percent of its electricity generated by the coal-fired power plant on campus, MU is one of the last holdouts in the nation relying on dirty coal on campus. This devastating form of energy production not only threatens the health of students and the community when we burn it on campus, but it has left a legacy of ruin in our neighboring state.

We need to take a much closer look at the true cost of burning coal on campus.

Poverty and health care crisis

Pollution from coal costs our nation $100 billion in health costs each year, according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force. Locally, the stranglehold of Big Coal on coalfield communities has prevented economic diversification and led to mind-boggling levels of poverty and ailing health.

Saline County, Ill., for example, the rich heartland of the Illinois coal industry, ranks 98th out of 102 counties for quality health indicators in that state. Jeff's family has lived and worked in the coal mines for nearly 200 years in Saline County, until their ancestral farm was strip-mined for coal.

Coal mining communities understand first hand that the so-called prosperity from business ventures with MU and its power plant is not just deceptive, but deadly. Southern Illinois has been subjected to the whims of the outside market, absentee landlords and coal companies and the boom-bust cycles that have left the region in poverty with few economic opportunities.

About 4,000 miners are currently employed in Illinois according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Many coal mining communities are boarded up, coal miners have seen their property values decline and homes lost, schools have been consolidated and closed. At the same time, billions of dollars worth of coal have been mined and trained out of the region. In the meantime, 104,000 miners have died from 1900 to 2005 in our American mines, and more than 250,000 miners have died from black lung, with more than 10,000 of those comingin the past decade.

Coal slurry disaster

Over the past decades, untold millions of gallons of toxic coal slurry — or the coal waste mixed with the water and chemicals used to wash the coal before it's shipped to market — have been injected into honeycombed underground mines or stored in huge reservoirs. This waste has poisoned underground aquifers, waterways, wells and drinking water sources that coal miners, farmers and their families get their water from. Farmers just east of St. Louis, for example, were devastated by typical coal slurry leaks in their watersheds, resulting in shocking cases of cancer and death.

Strip mining 

Since their birth in Illinois in the 1850s, strip-mining operations have been similar to a war-zone environment. These operations use millions of pounds of explosives to blow up mountains and hills and as a result have wiped out millions of acres of prime farmland and Shawnee forests, and led to the largest forced removal of American citizens since the 1800s. Less than three percent of the devastated land has been returned to productive use.

Longwall mining 

Big Coal is also destroying agriculture, as massive longwall mining operations churn up pillars of coal underground, leading to subsidence of the land, damaged fields and irrigation and the forced removal of American farmers who are left to resolve problems on their own with the mining companies.

Black lung disease

Despite the fact that it was first diagnosed in 1831, black lung disease continues to kill on average three coal miners daily. And taxpayers, because of defaults on loans by Big Coal companies, are picking up the tab.

However, opposition to the dirty, dangerous and outdated coal industry is growing on campuses and communities nationwide. Already since the national Campuses Beyond Coal campaign launched, 19 schools from Illinois to Wisconsin have made commitments to stop burning dirty coal on campus.

Does MU want to be ranked at the bottom of educational institutions on one of the most important issues of our time?

The answer for our Columbia community, and our partners in southern Illinois, is a resounding no.

We must act now to move MU beyond coal to real, clean energy solutions that will make us a leader. We can’t delay and continue to put off the consequences of burning coal on out-of-state communities and future generations.

The university’s contract with Knight Hawk Coal expires in 2013. We demand that this contract not be renewed and instead the university makes the switch to cleaner, local energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and efficiency that will save us money and reduce our pollution.

For the sake of the students and residents of Columbia and the people in communities throughout southern Illinois, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton must make a public commitment to moving off dirty coal immediately.

Taylor Dankmyer, a senior at MU majoring in strategic communication, is vice president of Coal Free Mizzou. Jeff Biggers is an author and educator from southern Illinois. His work includes "Reckoning at Eagle Creek," "The United States of Appalachia" and the forthcoming "STATE OUT OF THE UNION: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream."

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Kevin Gamble April 26, 2012 | 2:07 p.m.

I've long wondered about the health effects of the plant on everyone on campus and in the surrounding area. I remember working on campus back in the late 90s and seeing thick layers of coal dust on every windowsill that faced the plant. Now I look back and think: coal dust -- mercury?

Has anyone examined the potential health risks of this particular plant, or does anyone have updated information about the plant's current emissions and what is found in them?

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 26, 2012 | 3:51 p.m.

Being that they didn't call for their crucifiction, "Roman style", the authors seem to be to the right of the EPA and this administration who scare me more than the coal plant does.

What were the other industries that were thriving in these coal regions that were forced out or kept from getting started by the coal mines and exactly how did they suppress all those other industries?
(might be a trick question...)

Exactly how much money would we save by switching to each of the other cleaner sources of energy that you say will save us money?
(might be another trick question...)

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Emily LeGrand April 26, 2012 | 4:04 p.m.

Missouri has strong potential for renewable energy. Investing in renewable sources would bring jobs and money into Missouri. This article clearly shows the negative health results of coal-fired power plants. Working to move beyond coal is the right choice for Tigers and for all Missourians. Check out to learn more about advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency in Missouri.

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John Schultz April 26, 2012 | 4:55 p.m.

Majoring in strategic communication, eh? So we'll help the 4000 coal miners in southern Illinois by eliminating their jobs? That's the takeaway I got from reading what I could of the article.

I expect Mark Foecking or Ellis Smith will comment on how renewables are going to have a tough time generating the steam that the not-just-power plant provides to the Mizzou campus.

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John Schultz April 26, 2012 | 4:58 p.m.

Oh, and big deal on "us" sending "our" revenue out of state. Do you buy everything you need in-state and forgo those goods that cannot be grown or manufactured in Missouri? That's a ridiculous argument to make.

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B Simps April 26, 2012 | 5:25 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
KEN GERINGER April 26, 2012 | 6:00 p.m.

Dankmyer and Biggers, thanks. Maybe I did not know that burning coal is a bad thing. So, thanks again. Now, will you please inform me how wind, and solar, and efficiency can replace the coal produced energy in our state? Otherwise, you should just keep your mouths shut, as you just sound like dopes. We old folks figured this out in the 70's.

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J Karl Miller April 26, 2012 | 7:55 p.m.

Ms. LeGrand has echoed countless individuals and special interest groups touting the potential for renewable energy and the jobs and money that will accrue to Missouri from investing in renewable energy sources. Alas, without fail, the proponents of renewable energy make vague references to sources and materials but provide no specifics.

For starters, we get less than 3 percent of our energy from wind or solar power and even that minute amount requires huge subsidies to stay afloat.

Spain's experience with renewable energy pursuit mirrors the experiences of other nations (the U S included) Each new job entailed the loss of 2.2 other jobs that are either lost or not created in other industries because of the political allocation -- sub-optimum in terms of economic efficiency -- of capital. (European media regularly report "eco-corruption" leaving a "footprint of sleaze" -- gaming the subsidy systems, profiteering from land sales for wind farms, etc.) Calzada says the creation of jobs in alternative energy has subtracted about 110,000 jobs elsewhere in Spain's economy.

How about that Solyndra project?

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 27, 2012 | 9:54 a.m.

The idea that coal pushes out or suppresses all other industry is ludicrous. The only other "industry" that is negatively affected by coal in Southern IL and other coal regions is welfare!

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John Schultz April 27, 2012 | 10:27 a.m.

B Simps (if that is your name), why should Mizzou be involved in transitioning jobs in Illinois? Is this middle-class student guilt I'm sensing?

And what does your bean counting prowess tell you of government subsidies for any energy source? I say get rid of all subsidies, not just the green ones.

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Elaine Hartley April 27, 2012 | 3:57 p.m.

No matter how dismissive the lovers of the coal status quo may be, the truth cannot be denied. Coal is a killer through and through. Coal kills the miners who work in the industry. Coal kills the watersheds and the communities where mines are located. Coal kills uncounted people in the world who suffer respiriatory and heart diseases. Coal is responsible for much of the toxic content of the fish in our streams and ponds. Coal kills forests due to acid rain. Coal is one of the largest contributors to global climate change. How many have already died as a result of these changes and how many more will die? The costs of coal are not only externalized but the true cost of coal burning is astronomical, beyond calculation.

Your snide comments will not change this situation. Denial gets you nowhere.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 27, 2012 | 4:34 p.m.

Elaine: Are you against mines in general, or just coal mines?

Or both.

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frank christian April 27, 2012 | 10:42 p.m.

Imo, Elaine, the authors, and all the rest, are not interested in the effect of coal, we have Finger Lakes Park, from the strip mining of Peabody Coal Co., just north of Columbia, as well as the areas all over north central MO, who replaced the landscape when they had extracted the coal as required by our civil law. I don't believe they dynamited, because the talk was about the huge new scraping machines that could "walk" along a site until it was emptied.

Sad as it may seem, these writers and their ideologues are not interested in any of the disasters they love to falsely foist upon us. They, imo, belong to the progressive liberal, minority that prefers that our America, with the often false, always detrimentally expressed faults with our accepted sources of energy, be restricted from them, until we are joined with the other "equal" members of that citadel of integrity and hope, the U.N.

I would hope that someone with more time (not much required), might produce the simple information to dispel the liberal propaganda that Missourian has published for these ?

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub April 28, 2012 | 9:54 a.m.

Since most of the proponents of this most dirty of all fuel sources are probably old enough to remember when homes and business' were heated with coal, why aren't you still using it? It is certainly cheaper than the alternatives. Things were much better when coal ash covered the cities, and black lung was prevalent. I guess it is probably because the cost of a chimney tall enough to let the wind take the pollution away from you is more than you want to spend.

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John Schultz April 28, 2012 | 10:03 a.m.

Frank, you csn have the Missourian "publish" any "non liberal progaganda" you wish to send to them as a letter to the editor...

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Derrick Fogle April 28, 2012 | 11:46 a.m.

I work right next to the power plant. They haven't burned any coal in almost 2 months. They've been using their natural gas-fired boiler while they are installing a completely new dual-fuel (coal and biomass) handling system, and retrofitting one of their boilers to be able to burn almost 100% biomass. The new dark silos with the mirror-bubbles you see from Providence are storage silos for coal and wood-chip biomass. The system will be able to deliver any mix of coal/biomass to either boiler.

To illustrate just how dirty coal is, take a close look at the two smokestacks right now. Since they repaired them and coated them with grey epoxy, you can now clearly see the brown gunk accumulating on the south-west smokestack which is the coal boiler. Everyone breathes that stuff. The northeast smokestack is for the boiler that is being converted to biomass, and has not been used since the grey coating has been completed. It still looks pretty clean.

The biomass boiler smokestack, once in operation, will not be any cleaner. In fact, biomass creates even more particulates and waste ash than coal does; but creates slightly less output of toxic stuff like mercury. The wood chip biomass will be coming from Missouri wood processing operations, and the power generation will be low carbon.

I find it a bit disingenuous that this article should scold the MU power plant for burning coal, without a single mention that they have already decommissioned one of their coal-fired boilers, and are currently nearly finished with getting a biomass boiler installed in it's place. Or, that prior to this biomass boiler retrofit, they were still burning as much biomass as they could - about 10% - in their coal boilers.

Furthermore, MU's power plant is a co-generation facility. Once it's generated electricity from high-pressure steam from the boilers, is uses the waste low-pressure steam to provide heating and cooling to the rest of the University. Because of this co-generation, it's an incredibly efficient operation.

Truth is, the MU power plant engineers responded to this article nearly 10 years ago. It's just taking this long to realize the goal of burning more biomass and less coal. Conversion is not trivial. It takes planning and coordination, it takes time, and it takes money. MU is already moving forward, away from coal, towards renewable. I think they deserve a lot of credit for that.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 28, 2012 | 12:03 p.m.
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frank christian April 28, 2012 | 1:19 p.m.

"Since most of the proponents of this most dirty of all fuel sources are probably old enough to remember when homes and business' were heated with coal, why aren't you still using it?"

My father put natural gas furnace in his small home here in Columbia in late 1930's. No one that I knew had gas heat, some better off had "stokers" attached to their coal furnaces. Later in 1950's when wife and I returned to Columbia, first old house we bought had coal furnace "converted" to natural gas.

This change came about as cost relative to use fell because of technological advances. To my knowledge, it happened without any input from our college campuses or the environmental think tanks of today. The regulation of last thirty years on oil and gas has repositioned coal, the cheaper, we own 2000 years of proven reserves if used at the present levels and will not need to import any of it.

Didn't MU add "scrubbers" to their heat systems more like 30 years ago?

The writers here are in a bind. They cannot obtain the sweeping change they require by allowing economic feasibility to figure in the acceptance of tech advances that have and will, come. They certainly cannot divulge their, imo, real goal, the reduction or destruction of the economy of the United States of America, in relation to the economies of other nations around the world.

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J Karl Miller April 28, 2012 | 7:22 p.m.

For those who point to the fact that we no longer use coal to heat our homes as evidence that it is no longer needed as an energy source,someone needs to point out that 85 percent of Missouri's electricity is coal powered. Remember that the next time you turn on your lights at night and in winter when electricity is required to start your furnace.

And, Ms Hartley, your claim that coal is one of the largest contributors to climate change ignores the geologic history of the planet. Climate change is a natural and cyclical phenomenon that has occurred without regard to man inhabiting the planet. Earth endured four (4) separate ice ages and subsequent warming periods long before man walked the earth. The last ice age, occurring in the Pleistocene Era, came to an end without any burning of coal, use of gas guzzling SUVs, charcoal barbecue pits or other carbon "excessese" which cause progressives to wring their hands and wail.

What you need to remember though is that 85 percent of our electicity is powered by the evil coal--I grew up without electricity until I was fourteen years old and I don't want to return to the days of candles and kerosene lamps. By the way, kerosene is "coal oil." Coal won't be replaced in this or the next century.

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Mark Foecking April 29, 2012 | 8:01 a.m.

We use coal because it is economical - far more than wind and solar. All energy sources have a downside.

J Karl Miller wrote:

"Climate change is a natural and cyclical phenomenon that has occurred without regard to man inhabiting the planet."

But that doesn't mean that man can't do it, or that it will be in man's best interest to let it happen. Food production is dependent on our current climate. While adaptation is possible and necessary, we don't know if it will be feasible to produce the level of food we do now in a warmed world.

Kerosene is now made from petroleum.

As far as generating steam by solar power, it is certainly possible using concentrators. However, usually you want a sunnier climate to make that economical. Solar PV panels do not make hot water, and one cannot get steam without concentrating the sunlight.

The entire issue with renewables, of all sorts, is they are "diffuse", meaning they are not concentrated. Coal and oil have been concentrated by the earth, and give the power of many years of sun in an easy to use form. Replacing these resources is a job of a magnitude never before undertaken by man - it dwarfs the effort of the Interstate highway system, or the Apollo or Manhattan projects, by a couple of orders of magnitude. Few environmentalists understand the true level of expense and effort that repowering America would take, and under the best of circumstances would take a century or more. Col Miller is right that we will be using coal for the rest of this century.


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Gary Straub April 29, 2012 | 10:59 a.m.

There is no doubt that coal is the primary source of producing steam for electricity generation, however it is not 85% as stated by Col. Miller, in 2010 it was 45%.

The tired excuse for not doing anything about the warming of our planet - it has happened before without man - always fails to introduce the fact that there wasn't 7,000,000,000+ people with 1,000,000,000 autos and who knows how many polluting power plants to change the equation then.

Most environmentalists are very aware of the time needed to change our use of toxic fuels to more sustainable and clean sources. We also are very aware that it will never happen until we dedicate far more resources to it. Of course we would like for a magical spell to make it happen ovenight, just as those non-environmentalists would love to silence progress with the wave of the finger.

One thing that no-one can deny, is that we all - for now - must share this planet which is our home, and I personally would rather live in a clean home.

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Michael Williams April 29, 2012 | 11:23 a.m.

Gary: Most folks I know agree we should move away from coal/nat gas/oil; they are aware of the problems associated with these uses.

But we don't like the hyperbole associated with the "We're all gonna die tomorrow" crowd, and we don't like the scientific absurdity that windmills and solar panels and biomass are the pathways to sustainability.

Personally, I believe the only real path to sustainability is to move to a hydrogen/oxygen energy source. We'll make these gases from salt water using a cheap, readily-available catalyst and the sun. Our efforts should be concentrated here, using nuclear as an interim source for 100 years-or-so until we figure this all out. We better hope that our 92-element chemical alphabet allows such a thing, 'cause that's all we got.

Even so, fossil fuels will remain a significant component of our economy. They provide the already-synthesized carbon backbones (formed long ago) that allows us to make so many things....things that would be energetically unfeasible if we tried to do them today. But at least we will have reduced fossil fuel uses in things such as cars/trucks/electricity production, and that's a good thing.

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:05 p.m.


Coal Free Mizzou has written and talked extensively on what we think the best options are for switching off of coal. Also, the University of Missouri did a renewable energy feasibility study in 2010. It’s short on nitty gritty details, but if you take a look at the chart on page 20, you’ll see there are quite a few renewable energy options. The cheapest options they list still emit carbon, but off-site wind power, according to this study, was at a reasonable price:

As for your question, your snark aside, about what other industries were forced out or kept from getting started by the coalmines, you can find many of your answers to that in Jeff’s book, “Reckoning at Eagle Creek.” ( It contains plenty of information on that. From what I know, farming seems to be hit the hardest by the dirty dangerous strip mining going on in southern Illinois. Also, the simple operation of strip mining literally destroys acres and acres of land, and even the land it doesn’t touch is affected by it (you don’t want to place your business anywhere near a place that is blasting the earth every day, all day). I think that’s fairly self-explanatory.

You also have to realize this is one commentary. There is only so much we can put into one commentary. I wish we could answer every question or complaint people have.

Our point in this commentary was to raise awareness on what the true cost of coal is. Not what it costs per ton from Knight Hawk coal, but the ACTUAL costs of burning and mining coal. Because when you take these so-called “external” costs, coal doesn’t seem so affordable any more. A 2011 Harvard University report found that the external costs of coal were up to $500 billion ANNUALLY ( This doesn’t even address the amount of tax breaks and subsidies coal and gas companies get, despite their record profits over the last few years.

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:05 p.m.


I don’t think I need to tell you that Knight Hawk Coal has more than just a contract with the University of Missouri. They have numerous other contracts, and the University cutting off its addiction to coal would in no way eliminate all of their jobs. Unfortunately, the detrimental mining of coal would still be going on in Southern Illinois. But it would be a step in the right direction.

In addition, I’d encourage you to look at the number of people employed by coal mining our country today. It’s not a push for renewable energy that is eliminating their jobs, it’s the coal companies themselves. As coal companies come up with new technologies to gather coal (which require less people, more machines, and are even more detrimental to the environment and our health), the number of employees in the coal industry has rapidly declined. In 1920, there were over 784,000 coal miners. In 2006, there are less than 83,000, even though total US coal production has nearly doubled since that time (

In fact, even though wind power only accounts for 3% of the nation’s electricity, the wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States (
As for your point on generating steam for the campus, that certainly is something to consider. The real question is, again, transparency. We don’t need to be burning the level of coal we are right now to keep generating steam. Do we need to be burning something? Currently, yes. But we may be able to burn something other than coal, that would be much cleaner, renewable, and more sustainable. Also, we’re not locked into this steam system for next 200 years. If it absolutely requires something to be burned to run, we may in the future need to look into replacing that system. Would it cost money? Of course, but making any change costs money. Adding the scrubbers to the coal plant was quite costly. Adding the biomass boilers was quite costly.

Jeff and I’s point on getting coal from Southern Illinois while simultaneously sending revenue out of the state is that it would make a lot of sense to get our energy from Missouri; there are major economic benefits to doing so.

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:06 p.m.


Come to a Coal Free Mizzou meeting. Or come see us on campus. We’re more than willing to show you the potential wind and solar has in Missouri. I also would point you to the 2010 Climate Action Plan that has a renewable energy feasibility study in it: I’ll also point you to this page on renewables in Missouri:

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:06 p.m.

J Karl Miller,

The subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger, and those industries have been around for MUCH longer than any of the renewable energies. Fossil fuels get over $70 billion in subsidies, compared to just $10 billion for renewables ( All of this and fossil fuel companies are posting record profits. It may have made economic sense to prop the fossil fuels industry up when it first got going, but not any more. This industry is alive and well, they don’t need the subsidies. Cut the subsidies for fossil fuels, and then start comparing their prices to renewable energies. It’ll be a vastly different story.

What about Solyndra? One company that failed among hundreds of others. In the 1990s, we called this the Tech Boom. It did wonders for the American economy. And during it, the government was supporting all kinds of tech companies. Many of them went broke. Others boomed (Amazon for example). One company not making it shouldn't be the reason we completely stop funding innovators.

“The Energy Department’s loan-guarantee program, enacted in 2005 with bipartisan support has backed nearly $38 billion in loans for 40 projects around the country. Solyndra represents just 1.3 percent of that portfolio – and, as yet, it’s the only loan that has soured.” (

China is subsidizing its solar industry with tens of billions of dollars every year, $30 billion in just 2010 alone. This greatly reduced the price of silicon. Solyndra had previously been trying to build panels without silicon because the price of silicon was so high. We couldn’t anticipate that China was going to so heavily subsidize their solar market. This really affected the global market for solar (

I also see that you deny that climate change is in any way manmade. So, I’m likely wasting my time with you. 97% of scientists, a majority of Americans, and myself, disagree with your assessment of climate change.

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:07 p.m.


I find it interesting that you bring up the negatives of biomass. Biomass is a whole other topic for discussion. To vaguely bring that up in the guest commentary would have been trying to cover too much. As I said, and will say again, this article aimed to give the people of Columbia an idea of where the university’s coal comes from, and how it is affecting those around us. As for you saying they haven't burned any coal in two months, again, I'd love some transparency from the plant. Why don’t they show me on their website what they are burning on a daily basis?

No one said conversion was trivial. No one said it doesn’t take planning, coordination and money.

Also, they’re still looking at getting at 59% of their energy from something other than biomass in 2016 (if all goes according to plan). I wouldn’t call that being “off coal.” If they announce that the other 59% will be from a renewable energy, then we can talk.

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:08 p.m.


Mizzou’s coal plant certainly emits carbon & other pollutants that come out of any other coal plant. The coal plant does have scrubbers installed, which cuts down on the number of pollutants it releases, but that in no way gets rid of all of the pollutants. The sulfur gas produced by burning coal can
 be partially removed with scrubbers. In conventional coal plants, the most common form of sulfur dioxide control is through the use of scrubbers. To remove the SO2, the exhaust from a coal-fired power plant is passed through a mixture of lime or limestone & water, which absorbs the SO2 before the exhaust gas is released through the smokestack. Scrubbers can reduce sulfur emissions by up to 
90%, but smaller particulates are less likely
 to be absorbed by the limestone & can pass out
 the smokestack into the atmosphere. In addition, scrubbers require more energy to operate, thus increasing the amount of coal that must be burned to power their operation. ( ) (

Therefore, while it is possible to remove sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate (PM) emissions from coal-burning, CO2 emissions and radionuclides will be very hard or nearly impossible to address with scrubbers (
As for carbon emissions, the coal plant emitted 353,166 tons of CO2 in 2006, which of course contributes to climate change. That is the last year I was able to find statistics.

Which is another problem, the power plant could be much more transparent on their energy usage - especially in how it varies day to day. One plant employee told a class of students in February they were using 90% coal. The Tribune article cited above in the commentary says 80%. Before they redesigned the campus facilities website they were even more vague about it. The superintendent of the coal plant told me a few weeks ago that they were getting 20-30% of their energy off the grid. The math isn’t making much sense, is it?

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer April 29, 2012 | 12:09 p.m.


my comments continued from above....

While I know energy usage varies depending on how much we need to use, what the weather is like, & what the prices are for energy off the grid, I'd love for the university to implement a “Dashboard” type system for the coal plant. Dashboard is currently being used on some of the residence halls – it shows how much electricity each dorm is using, among other things. It makes it easy for students and the university at large to see how much energy they are using and attempt to cut down on that usage. I’d love to see a similar device for the coal plant. I assume nothing of that sort exists just yet, but in general, more transparency from the University on their use of coal, biomass, grid power, etc. every day would go a long way in easing complaints from the community.

As for examining the potential health risks of this particular plant, as I said, transparency on this plant is hard to come by, but Coal Free Mizzou and our supporters are working on getting a “true environmental and health cost” of the plant. The commentary above is just a piece of that.

(the Views above are mine, and are not particularly representative of anyone else or any organization, including Coal Free Mizzou.)

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 29, 2012 | 2:12 p.m.

Taylor Dankmyer wrote:

"Fossil fuels get over $70 billion in subsidies, compared to just $10 billion for renewables"

However, if you express that per amount of energy produced, wind and solar get 15 times the subsidy, per energy unit, as any other technology including nuclear. I've heard it time and time again how fossil fuels are subsidized at the expense of renewables, and it's just not true. We couldn't afford to install game changing amounts of renewables at todays subsidy levels (if we could even get enough of them, which is a whole other factor).

"energy usage - especially in how it varies day to day."

Load is rather predictable. The load the plant must meet is quite the same weekday to weekday, and changes on the weekend as it does most other weekends.

They are getting more energy off the grid these days because part of the plant is down for the installation of their biomass boiler. They will use coal as much as they can because it is the cheapest way for them to generate electricity. It may even be cheaper for them to buy peaking electricity off the grid rather than use their NG turbines.

"If they announce that the other 59% will be from a renewable energy, then we can talk."

Impossible. Not in today's economiy.


(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 29, 2012 | 2:43 p.m.

Gary Straub wrote:

"however it is not 85% as stated by Col. Miller, in 2010 it was 45%"

That's nationally. He's talking about electricity generated in state. Our reliance on coal is part of the reason our electrical rates are someof the lowest in the nation (unfortunately?).


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frank christian April 29, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.

“The Energy Department’s loan-guarantee program, enacted in 2005 with bipartisan support has backed nearly $38 billion in loans for 40 projects around the country."

The gov't 1603 grant program will expire this year with little hope for renewal because there is no money! Trillion dollar deficits since 2008, now and into the foreseeable future have created this phenomenon in our American economy. Perhaps Coal Free Mizzou could join conservative, fiscally responsible folks all over our country in the quest to stop the spending, printing, borrowing for every other whimsical project that has caused threat of downgrade in our credit reliability.

A little more about the failure of renewable energy projects, so far.


Mr. Dankmeyer managed again to elaborate upon the savage destruction of our green areas by strip mining, without mention of the extensive mining done across MO by Peabody Co. in 1960's, or the rehab of scars left, into popular State parks, providing hiking, biking, fishing, camping and the other enjoyments obtained with a day in the outdoors.

(Report Comment)
Ken Geringer April 29, 2012 | 9:32 p.m.

Taylor, thanks for your interest. Where are the watts going to come from? If I am trying to pay the rent, buy food, and pay for the eye drops that seem to be one sixth of my take home pay, how can I give a damn about the future of the universe? Some advancement will occur. Seems like nuclear power production is the transition technology. What else can produce the watts?

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub April 30, 2012 | 10:46 a.m.

Michael, I wholeheartedly agree with your condoning the use of hydrogen fuel. It is the cleanest fuel available, with the exhaust being more H2O, couldn't be a better solution or the sun wouldn't exist. Unfortunately nobody who has power is interested as it would be difficult for them to make exorbitant profits from. I dream of the day when we all can have our own hydrogen plant using water as the source. Life and society would be able to go on and get back to ingenuity instead of spending a major portion of our budgets on fuel and the effects of it.

Frank, obviously you have not visited the ponds created by Peabody that will to this very day not support life. They are very pretty to look at but also very eery to see a crystal clear body of water with not even a bug swimming in it. And if the military did not consume the lion's share of our budget on their crusades we may have some left over for our own use.

Taylor, thanks for taking the time to explain. Don't worry about the human made climate change deniers, they are still questioning whether or not the earth is round, not flat.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 30, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.

Gary: Well, hydrogen gas won't be without problems. I'd hate to have a cylinder of the stuff sitting behind my house....and this from a person with propane sitting behind my house.

Hopefully, we'll find better ways to store the stuff (including hydrogen) in something other than pressurized tanks. Time and research will tell, but I think we are 100 years from a good solution. Nukes with a slow phasing out of some coal is the only real transition technology.

My main concern is whether we can really construct a cheap, readily-available catalyst that is extraordinarily efficient at converting salt water to both gases using the sun's energy. We only have 92 letters of the chemical alphabet to work with and, if they and the possible combinations thereof don't do the trick regardless of technical construction, we're SOL. Even that catalyst won't be environmentally benign because it will undoubtedly have to be mined. Hopefully it will be quite efficient AND can be easily regenerated.

I favor a Manhattan-style effort and will support such a thing with taxes.

I won't support windmills, conventional solar unrelated to the above, or biomass. 20-30 years from now we'll wish we hadn't gone this route. I consider these technologies only feely-good, insignificant efforts similar to using a rain barrel or garden to significantly reduce runoff into streams.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 30, 2012 | 11:45 a.m.

Gary: couldn't be a better solution or the sun wouldn't exist.

I'm unsure what you mean. The sun is not powered by reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to make water. It's powered by the nuclear fusion of various hydrogen isotopes to make helium.

'Tis true, tho, that combusted hydrogen and oxygen makes ONLY water and heat.

Efforts to convert to hydrogen/oxygen energy generation also causes some other problems. Imagine a conversion plant situated on the coast, taking sea water and energy from the sun to make hydrogen and oxygen. What happens next?

Well, first of all you have this HUGE pile of salts to get rid of. Second, the hydrogen/oxygen will be transported FROM the ocean to other places not near the ocean. They will be burned (with evolution of heat) to make water. Will this massive amount of steam water simply be vented to the air, increasing the water content of the inland air. Is it sufficient to change weather/storms? Or will the water your driveway where it will go into streams/rivers etc., until it gets back to the plant where that huge pile of salt is, so you can make more seawater and not have to landfill all that salt.

These musings are elementary and simple, far beyond my pay scale and engineering capabilities. I know there will be problems, tho....NO energy technology is environmentally benign although those who are naive would have us think so....that only if we'd do THIS, all problems would be solved. That's malarkey. Fact is....those who advocate a technology now will have kids that ask, "How could you have been so stupid?"....just like my generation did to our parents.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 30, 2012 | 2:20 p.m.

Solar panels not so green or benign:

Work with heavy metals, you're gonna have problems with waste. And some of it is quite toxic.

To say nothing of the mines that have to be operated to get the metals in the first place. Solar panels don't grow pre-assembled on trees.........

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 30, 2012 | 4:16 p.m.

"Frank, obviously you have not visited the ponds created by Peabody that will to this very day not support life."

You are right, where are they and why won't they support life as all the other reclaimed Peabody lands do? Perhaps we could locate them with info from "The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM or OSMRE) is a branch of the United States Department of the Interior. ... to be used for reclamation of abandoned mine lands, as well as established a set environmental.."

Read about Kickapoo State Park in IL: The locals there reclaimed the land apparently, somehow, without the Federal Government. Good things have been created from damage done necessarily for our well being. Imo, you and these authors are promoting a false and unnecessary premise. Your usual lapse into the leftist concern for money spent on Defense, seems to prove your lack of interest in truth, in these issues, but only seek the opportunity to announce or recite the other coming disasters that are bound to destroy the society that will not accept socialism as the savior.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 30, 2012 | 4:43 p.m.

It is a bit perplexing to hear folks talk about coal mines and their destruction of lands, and why this is a good reason to not use coal, but NOT discuss other types of mines that provide metals for "green" energy.

Do these mines not exist? Or do we prefer to just not talk about them because they hurt the agenda?

Let's see....we have copper, lead (world's biggest right here in MO), cadmium, zinc, tin, sulfur, silver, iron mines, and the say nothing about all the etching solutions and somesuch that end up as quite hazardous waste. These mines have the same problems as coal mines; indeed, in some cases the leachates are even more deadly.

Anti-coal folks WILL have to address the mine issue and the hazardous waste issue. These metals are toxic. You can't ignore this topic with credibility. Don't gripe about the "leavings" of coal mines and ignore the "leavings" of other mines that go into your green equation.

As for me, I kinda like the old Peabody Coal strips....most are quite vibrant.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub April 30, 2012 | 6:42 p.m.

Mike what harm do you find in concentrated solar reflectors to make steam. Also if the steam from producing energy from hydrogen is bad for the planet what then is the effect of the massive amounts we make from traditional methods. Why does the hydrogen have to use salt water, I remember a man in MO at least 30 years ago devised a way to get it out of ordinary water. My dream is not to produce all of our energy from a few gigantic power plants but to have small hydrogen generators for each house to supply fuel for the own fuel cells. Then the small amount of traditional fuel that would be needed to run manufacturing would have much less impact on the planet.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 30, 2012 | 7:24 p.m.

Gary: Why does the hydrogen have to use salt water?

Fresh water is precious and in short supply worldwide. Using fresh water to make hydrogen/oxygen would be extremely short-sighted and foolish, similar to using your food supply for energy. Like biomass utilization, you would be taking the fresh water from one place (rivers/lakes/hopefully not aquifers) and distributing it to places where it might not return to the source easily. Replenishment of your local source would be the problem.

Not so with salt water, but you still would have a transportation problem.

You can get hydrogen and oxygen from water right now (electrolysis, from your wall socket or from a solar panel), but it's way too inefficient to make it worthwhile on a world scale.

For generation at home, I suspect you'd have a BTU problem, but again I'm over my head with the energetics. MarkF or Ellis need to weigh in.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller April 30, 2012 | 8:11 p.m.

Most of the midwestern states derive 89 to 85 percent of their electric power from coal fired energy.
Mr Dankmyer--Your statement: "I also see that you deny that climate change is in any way manmade. So, I’m likely wasting my time with you. 97% of scientists, a majority of Americans, and myself, disagree with your assessment of climate change" is very typical those made by 20 year olds with no practical experience and a treehugging mentality.

The very notion that 97 percent of scientists agree with you is absurd. How do you account for the fact that there have been four (4) separate ice ages and subsequent warming periods (all climate change) on this planet--all occurring before the appearance of man. The basic course in Geology might show you a different side.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 30, 2012 | 8:51 p.m.

Lol, I forgot. Disclosure:

My farm sits on over $4M in high-sulfur coal, and a sizable aquifer of salty water....all within 35 miles of Columbia and all currently worthless.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 30, 2012 | 10:14 p.m.

@Taylor: To be certain, I don't need disclosure from the plant to know what they are burning. I park my bike a block away every morning, and look up at the smokestacks to see what's cooking. My perspective of the stacks against the sky makes it easy to see which ones are "smoking" so to speak, even when the discharge is almost perfectly clear. Heat distortion gives it away.

In actuality, I'd bet they've done at least some test burns in the last couple of months, but the gas burner is the only one I've seen running every time I've looked since then.

I'd bet their current gas delivery contract is pretty sweet; I'm sure that helps the overall project just a bit. But DK is right, the coal is still cheapest.

I accept the risk being close to that power plant represents. The risk is certainly greater than zero, but not very high in a relative sense. I've got lots more important things to worry about. That's why I ride a bike to work; it's first-order action for both personal safety and environmental preservation.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 30, 2012 | 10:32 p.m.

The reason to go solar is not because it's perfectly "green" or anything like that. It's because it's the only single energy source technology that can completely replace what we currently get from fossil fuels, with 300 times capacity to spare for future expansion. The only one.

Conversion to anything else as a primary energy source just means that society will eventually have to undergo another conversion. Almost certainly not in our lifetimes, but does that absolve us of the responsibility to make the right decision the first time?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 2, 2012 | 7:45 a.m.

First, another University of Missouri System campus has obtained Curators' approval to replace its coal-fired generator with a geothermal system. This requires a considerable amount of preparation and will take about five years. The energy needs of that campus are only a fraction of those of the MU campus, and one assumes that a geothermal solution at MU was considered and has been ruled out.

The problems associated with coal mining (either underground or strip) are well known and won't be commented upon further here. But that's not MU's real problem. MU's real problem is to come up with enough electrical and thermal (steam heating) capacity to serve current and future needs. In that respect the current move to burning wood waste seems regressive. Whatever the problems with coal, it IS a high caloric fuel; wood is not.

When we obtain electrical energy from a supplier we typically obtain a mixture of generation sources from the power lines: once the electricity is in the system it loses its generated source identity, so unless your electricity goes to you from a single and clearly identifiable generation source you have no idea by what means it was generated.

Bituminous coal has only two virtues: high caloric content and a large domestic reserve. As I have noted earlier, the United States is an exporter of coal as well as a domestic user.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 2, 2012 | 12:36 p.m.

@ Michael Williams:

As you requested I have, above, commented on this matter. I was in North Carolina (Research Triangle Park, on business) and South Carolina (visiting family members) when the above exchanges took place. If we make a list of commercially available combustion fuels by descending caloric value we would need to look rather far down that list to find wood or wood byproducts. Where I'm familiar with their use (in firing ceramics) they are being used because of availability and/or low cost, not because their use is thermally efficient. Stated differently, there may be reasons for using wood as a fuel, but thermal efficiency isn't one of them. (You can derive sensible heat from burning used feminine napkins with air, but I wouldn't recommend them as a commercial fuel.)

I'm waiting for everyone to embrace the concept of caloric value in fuels, then we can move on to the more interesting matter of combustion stoichiometry, but I think I'll be waiting a long time. :)

Because of its tie to the subject of geology the project at MS&T has generated a lot of student and alumni interest. Our graduates have a long history of drilling for things (minerals, petroleum, subterranean water, sulfur, etc.).

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 2, 2012 | 5:34 p.m.

Ellis: You noted biomass was rather far down the list.

Can you comment on the energetics of hydrogen plus oxygen yields water and heat?

Making both...and using them as an energy source.

Thermodynamics wasn't suit.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 2, 2012 | 5:36 p.m.

However, stoichiometry and I are good friends, so go for it.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 2, 2012 | 6:10 p.m.

When I used the word "stoichiometry" in my previous post I thought of you. Stoichiometric combustion is merely a special case of the chemical concept of stoichiometrics. However, many industrial combustion processes do NOT use a stoichiometric fuel-air (oxygen) ratio. Some are oxidizing and a few are reducing. The needs of the process are what mandates the condition.

I don't feel qualified to comment on the process of combining hydrogen and oxygen on a commercial basis. The latter is relatively inexpensive and safe to produce (hence its presence in high volume usage in the basic oxygen steelmaking process, BOP), but what about the cost and dangers in producing and handling hydrogen?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 2, 2012 | 6:44 p.m.

Ellis asks, "...but what about the cost and dangers in producing and handling hydrogen?"

I'd say...significant.

How much more significant than storing propane I cannot say.

Hydrogen fires are certainly spectacular as I discovered when I forgot that lump of sodium in the beaker I TRIED to wash with soapy water.

I believe we'll come up with a way to store it and keep it safely stored, even in vehicles. Take a while, tho.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 3, 2012 | 5:16 a.m.

I'll admit that elemental hydrogen scares the s**t out of me due to its flammability. My fear may have been established at an early age, watching newsreel (there was no TV) footage of the Hindenburg exploding, crashing and burning at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

My understanding is that for vehicles they are experimenting with fuel "tanks" that are more like "bladders" - not rigid - as a means of containing hydrogen in a vehicle accident. Sort of makes sense, but I doubt that it would be 100% effective.

Propane is commonly used as an industrial "back up" fuel, particularly in the Southern United States. Many industrial users of natural gas have what are called "interruptible" contracts with natural gas suppliers: when winter demand on the natural gas supply becomes too great those users get temporarily cut back on natural gas and must use an alternative fuel to keep operating. The preferred alternates are fuel oil and propane, with the latter being more expensive, but in the South the natural gas curtailments are shorter and less frequent.

However, you need only go to a refractory ceramic plant in Fulton, Missouri to see propane being used as a standby fuel. The nice thing about propane vs. natural gas is that you don't need to change burners. On a large tunnel kiln that can be a serious operation, and a miserable one, because normally you don't shut down the kiln to make the change.

Natural gas will rise and exit the manufacturing plant through roof ventilators; propane will settle at the lowest point it can reach. Because of this, and because natural gas curtailments are almost never 100%, it is common practice to mix a little natural gas with the propane to create a mixture than will rise (doesn't take much natural gas to do that).

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 3, 2012 | 10:01 a.m.

Hydrogen has the largest range of explosive concentration in air of any common fuel, but to it's advantage, it is very light and escapes easily from structures through roof vents. Still, in enclosed areas, it is a considerably greater explosion danger than natural gas.

I've worked with it a fair amount as a chemical reagent, and it's slippery stuff. Valves leak over time even though they are tight. One disadvantage of piping it or storing it in tanks is it embrittles steel.

Hydrogen can be stored in high volume at lower pressures as metal and alkali hydrides, and this has been proposed as a safer alternative to high pressure or cryogenic tanks for vehicles. These hydrides are universally water sensitive, and would need to be replaced on a fairly regular basis due to the difficulty of producing very dry hydrogen on a massive scale.

As far as splitting water with sunlight, I don't know a lot about it. However, all the energy embodied in the hydrogen has to come from the sun, which has an power density of about 200 watts/sq meter averaged over a 24 hour day. So one can get energy of roughly 5 kwh/sq meter if the conversion process is 100% efficient (PV panels are about 15%). THe highest quantum yield catalysts I saw in the article only work well with UV, so one would expect a low efficiency because far more visible light reaches the earth than UV.

Hydrogen generators on every roof are a LONG way away, and I tend to believe that things that are a long way away will never happen, because of the rising costs of making them happen.

I don't agree with all of this, but here is a sobering report that addresses the potential of renewable energies to power energy intensive societies, and finds them lacking:


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 3, 2012 | 12:53 p.m.

MarkF: Thanks for the comments on the topic. The current state of the art for switching to a hydrogen/oxygen energy economy is certainly abysmal....which is why I originally said it'll take a 100 years or so. Of course, that assumes we can find that extraordinarily efficient catalyst from this finite 92-element chemical library we have.

When I take a look at the options, the sun and seawater seem the only ultimate choice. For all intents and purposes, both are infinite to us. I don't view direct solar or wind or tidal as anything but feel-good options that do nothing except make liberals think they are "doing" something. Geothermal is nice on a small scale but, after all, that's just another way of getting a whole lot of the earth's internal heat into the atmosphere a lot quicker than the current relatively slow "diffusion" through the crust. Nuclear and some coal/nat gas are the transitions to get us to where we need to be, imo.

As far as coal/nat gas/oil goes, I think the very best we can do is reduce their use by a max 50%. That percentage is a WAG with a bit of intuition behind it. Especially for coal and oil, these natural products provide abundant carbon backbones as starting materials for many things we need...things energetically impossible to do in the chemical plant unless you are willing to use even more energy.

Hydrogen scares me, too. Hopefully technology will improve so our great-grandchildren will wonder "What was all the fuss?"

(Report Comment)
Taylor Dankmyer June 6, 2012 | 1:40 p.m.

Hey everyone,

Those that support this cause against coal aught to head to Earth Justice's website, on mountaintop removal. All you need to do is upload a photo to sign the photo petition.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 6, 2012 | 3:37 p.m.

Bumper sticker seen in Phelps County, Missouri:

Prevent forest fires!
Strip mine.

Another bumper sticker reads: "Earth First! We'll mine the other planets later."

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 6, 2012 | 6:01 p.m.

How about an original Earth First bumper sticker: "Don't make a molehill out of a mountain."

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 6, 2012 | 6:32 p.m.

Sure Hank, jokes are not appropriate about the eco-terrorists known as Earth First.

"Tree spiking is a common tactic that was first used by members of EarthFirst! in 1984. Tree spiking involves hammering a small spike into the trunk of a tree that may be logged with the intention of damaging the chainsaw or mill blades, and may seriously injure the logger.: Wikipedia-Eco-terrorists.

We must take them seriously, but not in the manner your comment suggests!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 6, 2012 | 6:42 p.m.

From the Earth Justice site, voters dislike mountaintop coal removal.

I'll bet they'd dislike rolling blackouts a whole lot more.


(Report Comment)
frank christian June 6, 2012 | 8:27 p.m.

This is the "Earth Justice site".

Earthjustice Facts:

1. Founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund
2. Name changed to Earthjustice in 1997
3. Headquartered in Oakland, CA

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 6, 2012 | 8:47 p.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

That's the problem in a nutshell. It may shock some to learn that I too and professionals like me have concerns about use of coal as fuel to create electricity, and all projections I've seen are for its long term reduction, but if we arbitrarily ended its use today we'd have insufficient electricity to meet current, let alone future, needs.

The way some adults treat eletricity is similar to how a 5-year-old treats a water faucet: he knows that when he turns on the faucet, water will flow but he has no idea what is involved in preparing the water for use or bringing it to the faucet.

Regarding Appalacia, coals mined there have higher caloric value than most coal brought in by rail from the West. Higher caloric value means more thermal energy per ton burned.

As for bumper stickers, some of us like a little humor now and then. Does anyone remember this bumper sticker from the Johnson presidency?

I fight poverty.
I work!

(Report Comment)

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