Safe, Inexpensive, Effective, Warming

By December 27, 2008Energy

From The New York Times, “Burning Coal at Home Is Making a Comeback“:

Problematic in some ways and difficult to handle, coal is nonetheless a cheap, plentiful, mined-in-America source of heat. And with the cost of heating oil and natural gas increasingly prone to spikes, some homeowners in the Northeast, pockets of the Midwest and even Alaska are deciding coal is worth the trouble.

Burning coal at home was once commonplace, of course, but the practice had been declining for decades. Coal consumption for residential use hit a low of 258,000 tons in 2006 — then started to rise. It jumped 9 percent in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, and 10 percent more in the first eight months of 2008.

Online coal forums are buzzing with activity, as residential coal enthusiasts trade tips and advice for buying and tending to coal heaters. And manufacturers and dealers of coal-burning stoves say they have been deluged with orders — many placed when the price of heating oil jumped last summer — that they are struggling to fill.

The story quotes an air quality official from Fairbanks who regards burning coal as harmful to local residents’ health. Also cited is the president of an environmental testing firm from Portland, Oregon, who notes that restrictions on wood-burning stoves do not apply to coal-burning ovens. But that’s it in terms of opposition.

Too bad the NYT reporter didn’t ask a representative from a national environmental group for a comment, perhaps the answer to this question: “Your organization is leading a national ad campaign against coal as a source of electricity. Would you also like to ban the burning of coal in homes so people can stay warm in the winter? If not, why not?”

Environmentalists must surely dislike coal on all fronts; widespread acceptance of coal for home heating makes it more difficult to argue against the fuel generally as an evil, environmental monster. After all, you can’t concede that it’s OK for people to heat their homes with coal but then object to the use of an electric baseboard heater because the electricity is generated from burning coal.

(Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds, who recalls heating with coal in Heidelberg. Your correspondent remembers traveling through eastern Germany soon after the Wall fell, while they still burned high-sulfur brown coal. Now that was awful.)

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • J. Lynne says:

    The problem is that there’s no way to heat your house that doesn’t generate pollution in some way.

    After I was told I had to replace my furnace this year and after I received the contract rates for heating oil, I decided to go with a wood pellet furnace. Even still, I worried about deforestation and pollution from wood-burning, both of which are lower with wood pellet technology. There has been a run on wood pellet stoves here in Maine in 2008 and it’s been near impossible to find wood pellets since June. My supplier had to bring them in from Canada, I think.

    Recently, I’ve been seeing articles about increases in the Northern states in wood burning pollution in the last two years, clearly due to the high cost of oil. Even my neighbors started making use of their wood stoves as opposed to their oil furnaces starting last Winter.

    So, even though it’s a renewable resource which we aren’t purchasing from volatile countries, I expect there will be an outcry against burning wood soon. These things go in circles.

  • Peg C. says:

    Enviro-leftists oppose coal, but they also oppose oil, gas, nukes, all generators of electricity, and all effective forms of energy, because they oppose the developers and users of energy: homosapiens. It’s the same hatred that drives the rest of the AGW movement. Humans breathe out carbon dioxide which is evil, so we are evil.

    We have to follow their arguments to their natural conclusion, and all roads lead to the same destination: nature good, man bad. Except we are part of nature. Force these people to go all the way with their dogma and throw their conclusions in their faces.

  • M. Simon says:

    We used to have to bank the coal fire at night when I was a kid. And turn down the damper. Up in the morning to a cold house to shovel coal on the fire and open the damper. Then we got a coal augur and it was heaven. Just make sure a bunch of coal was piled on the augur at night, turn down the thermostat and in the morning turn up the thermostat wait for the warmth and then check the augur to make sure there was enough coal until school let out.

    A few years later we got natural gas and the romance of coal was over. I still miss the coal truck backing up to the coal chute and dumping a load of heat into the coal bin. And to hear those days are coming back. Great.

  • edh says:

    After all, you can’t concede that it’s OK for people to heat their homes with coal but then object to the use of an electric baseboard heater because the electricity is generated from burning coal.

    Plus, burning of coal at electric power plants is a lot cleaner than burning coal in a stove at your house.

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