Should We Transport Coal, Gas, or Electricity:  Cost, Efficiency, and Environmental Implications

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

We examine the life cycle costs, environmental discharges, and deaths of moving coal via rail, coal gas via pipeline, and electricity via wire from the Powder River Basin (PRB) in Wyoming to Texas. Which method has least social cost depends on how much additional investment in rail line, transmission, or pipeline infrastructure is required, as well as how much and how far energy is transported. If the existing rail lines have unused capacity, coal by rail is the cheapest method (up to 200 miles of additional track could be added). If no infrastructure exists, greater distances and larger amounts of energy favor coal by rail and gasified coal by pipeline over electricity transmission. For 1,000 miles and 9 gigawatts of power, a gas pipeline is cheapest, has less environmental discharges, uses less land, and is least obtrusive.