The Switch: Light, Coal, Water and You

Fact: Water is increasingly a limited and limiting necessity. Atlanta’s current predicament is a likely sample of conditions to come across the country and the world. SEE THE DROUGHT MAP (and thank God for today’s rain in the southeast!)

Fact: Electric utilities are the single largest users of the region’s freshwater. It takes 25 gallons (31 from nuclear) to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity. PLEASE READ THIS!

Government agencies, however, have calculated that thermoelectric plants with once-through cooling use an average of 25 gallons of water to produce one kilowatt hour of power.

The average Georgia household burns 1,100 kilowatt hours of electricity a month. That translates to about 27,000 gallons of water.

By comparison, a family of four goes through about 9,000 gallons a month for household uses such as washing clothes, flushing toilets and showering. (so: 36,000 gallons a month total for actual use and electricity equivalent water usage for a Georgia family of four. Times _??_ such families in the Atlanta area…/FF)

Fact: It takes ONE pound of coal to produce ONE kilowatt of electricity. The average American home requires some 11000 pounds of coal a year to power their homes.

Over 56 percent of the electricity in U.S. is generated from coal.   In fact, more than 84 percent of the coal consumed each year in the U.S. is used to generate electricity.  It takes about one pound of coal to generate one kilowatt hour (kwh) of electricity.

Fact: Mountaintop removal (IMAGES) is destroying many miles of streams and countless acres of irreplaceable forest each year, with the loss of its varied environmental services and the quality of life for real families who live where there used to be mountains–to provide millions of American homes with electricity. Much of that electricity is wasted by inefficient use habits and appliances (including bulbs.)

Fact: Solar technologies will soon or already have become more efficient at the production of electrical energy than coal. THIS could be very good news (but not to the electrical utility barons.)

Conclusion: That we save very much precious water by using less electricity in our homes, shopping centers, office buildings and cities. We can and should make this change in our collective habits now. Not later.

Conclusion: That if we made a major national and political effort to move away from coal (for a half-dozen urgent and moral reasons of human and environmental health) we could stop destroying mountains, communities, water resources, air quality and more in our lifetime.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. amen to that! a strip mining site is in the process of getting approved in our county… with the waste going directly into our streams and then into the potomac… which just got a D rating for water quality by the DEP. last year we had a huge fish kill in the potomac and there are still fish with oozing sores swimming around. so why don’t we put some more coal waste in it? arrgh!

  2. Your facts about water and electricity production have never come to my attention before, even thought I read a half dozen environmental magazines. You go, Fred!!