Energy and labor costs of alternative coal-electric fuel cycles

James Kurish, Peter Penner, Bruce Hannon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This report investigates the comparative net energy, job, and dollar costs of buying Western and Eastern coal in a fictitious Chicago power plant to produce 1000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. The energy and labor costs include all energy and labor required throughout the U. S. economy to produce this electricity. While this research was in progress, a law was passed requiring all new coal-fired power plants to scrub coal at 90 percent sulfur removal, whereas prior to this law, Western coal could be utilized without scrubbers. The dollar costs as well as the energy costs favored Western surface-mined coal versus Eastern coal whether underground or surface mined. For the purpose of trying to estimate the effects of the new law, data based on conventional limestone scrub of Western coal were used as well as a cycle with no scrubbing at all. When applying conventional scrubbers to Western coal, the least-cost energy and dollar cycle switches from the Western coal to the Eastern coal system. Obviously, transport distance plays a key role in this conclusion. The break-even distance at which transport energy equals the additional energy costs of conventional scrubbing was 2346 miles. When scrubbers are used on Eastern and Western coal, this break-even distance falls to 135 miles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-194
Number of pages28
JournalEnergy systems and policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering

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