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Fossil fuels

Demand for power continues to increase
Find out why we're so dependent on coal, oil and natural gas.
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Coal, oil and natural gas are called fossil fuels - they were formed deep under the earth millions of years ago from the decomposition of plant and animal matter.

Coal trainFossil fuels are used to generate electricity because they're widely available, inexpensive, easy to transport, easy to use, and the power plants can be located almost anywhere.

Coal is the most commonly used fossil fuel because it burns extremely hot for a long period of time, and it can be stored for future use.

Big increase in demand

Our dependence on fossil fuels grew during and after World War II. Prior to the 1940s, hydro power was becoming the dominant technology, with dozens of federally-funded hydroelectric plants constructed during the Great Depression.

The demand for electricity suddenly increased with the advent of World War II, and continued to increase over the following decades. The only way utilities could keep up with the demand was to build power plants.

The environmental impact

The utility industry met the explosion in demand for electricity without real knowledge of the environmental impact of using fossil fuels. When coal, natural gas or oil are burned, they release gases into the atmosphere:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a "greenhouse gas," trapping heat in the lowest part of the earth's atmosphere. This contributes to "global warming" - the average temperature of the earth slowly increases, affecting ecosystems across the globe.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a key contributor to acid rain, primarily in the northeast U.S.
  • Nitrogen oxide (NOx) contributes to acid rain and smog, as well as health issues such as lung inflammation, immune system changes and eye irritation.

In addition, the process of bringing fossil fuels to the surface, such as strip mining or oil exploration, can be detrimental to the surrounding habitat.

And while fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum are still plentiful, the supply will eventually run out - once we use them, they're gone forever.

 


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If you are vision-impaired or have some other disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or a similar law, and you wish to discuss potential accommodations related to shopping or ordering on or using the benefits of our website, please contact Alliant Energy at 1-800-ALLIANT (800-255-4268).