Archive for March, 2008

A Challenge For Equal Time


The energy industry is often characterized as being at odds with
environmentalists. But in fact we’re all environmentalists. (We’ve yet
to come across someone who is against the environment.)

We’re also in favor of affordable and reliable electricity, of course.
It would be nice to discuss the issues, calmly and rationally, with

A few weeks ago we challenged the major environmental groups to an “equal-time discussion” on common themes that intersect the energy & environmental world.

No name calling or mud-slinging, just a straightforward debate relying
on accepted facts. We proposed starting with this question: “How do we meet America’s growing energy needs while addressing the climate change issue?”

The rules would be that each side could make its case in 1,000 words
and must commit to keeping both essays on its site for at least 21 days
and promote the discussion on its home page for at least 10 days.

Are environmental groups up for a fair and honest debate where both sides are heard?

I guess not.

We sent our challenge to five groups: the Sierra Club, Environmental
Defense Fund, League of Conservation Voters, Center for Biological
Diversity and Friends of the Earth.

None were interested.

What does that say about the efforts of those groups to have a genuine debate on the issues?


Thoughts About Meeting Future Energy Demand


The Energy Information Administration recently stated that electricity
use would grow by 1.1 percent per year through 2030 – down from the 1.5
percent per year increase it predicted last year. Some anti-coal
activists have used this data – along with some fuzzy math – to
speculate that America won’t need new coal-based power plants in the

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Granted, gains in energy efficiency may be slightly changing the slope
of the demand curve and we see that in the EIA forecasts. But that
said, by all accounts America’s electricity demands are increasing.
Moreover, new advanced coal-based power plants can replace older, less
efficient units when those plants are due to be taken out of operation.

Meeting America’s future electricity needs will include a variety of
fuel resources … including coal. Coal is a domestically-abundant energy
resource, and as we’ve stated on this site before, fuels like solar and wind are not replacements for coal.

So the question isn’t whether we’ll use coal (we will), the question is HOW we’ll use coal (and the answer there is cleanly!).

For that reason, we need to be sure we keep putting dollars into
funding clean coal technology research. With the right investments in
technology, coal will help power America through the 21st century and
it will do so with what we term ultra-low emissions (zero emissions of
pollutants regulated by federal and state clean air laws and the
capture and storage of CO2).

That is a pretty big goal, but that is what we mean when we say that this industry has made a commitment to clean.


Using Coal To Neutralize National Security Threats

Over the weekend, I noticed a story about the U.S. military putting forward a plan to wean itself from foreign fuel by turning to coal.

The Air Force realizes that they could “help neutralize a national
security threat by tapping into the country’s abundant coal reserves.”

It makes sense, of course, to have the U.S. military use a
domestically abundant resource rather than relying on politically
volatile regions for the fuel to power our own fleet.

I don’t talk much about transportation fuels, but with high gasoline
prices on everyone’s mind, it’s worth joining the discussion about
whether the future of automobiles is electric cars or vehicles that run
on hydrogen.

If the nation decides to move to electric cars, that will mean a
need for increased investment in more clean coal plants. After all,
half of our electricity comes from coal — and we’ll need coal even more
it if we are plugging in our cars to the electricity grid (and any
residual increase in emissions from the increased production of
electricity would be more than offset by the emissions reductions in
the transportation sector).

As hydrogen vehicles also catch on, coal can provide a clean solution
there too. Using advanced technologies, we will be able to use coal to
produce electricity with hydrogen being a beneficial byproduct.

As I’ve said many times, we need to change our way of thinking if we
want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Knowing that technology
will allow us to use coal to produce electricity and produce hydrogen
for things like hydrogen fuel cells is more relevant now than ever.

Here’s how Lieberman-Warner would affect the economy


It’s always a good feeling when other groups and studies validate what
you have been saying in the public eye. Since ABEC began, our message
has been that the economy, the environment and energy security are
linked and that you can’t radically alter policies for one without
affecting the others.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s economic analysis of Lieberman-Warner proves that point, finding the bill to be a job killer.

Meanwhile, consider this separate study
released last week by Science Applications International Corporation,
which points to some pretty severe economic consequences of the
proposed Lieberman-Warner climate change bill. A few highlights:

  • GDP losses of $151 to $210 billion in 2020 and $631 to $669 billion per year in 2030
  • Employment losses of 1.2 to 1.8 million in 2020 and 3 to 4 million in 2030
  • Electricity price increases of 28-33 percent by 2020 and 101-129 percent by 2030

While staggering, these numbers are hardly surprising. Imagine the
impact these numbers will have on American families, especially ones
already struggling to pay their electric bills?

Look, it’s possible to develop a federal program that can address the
economic, environmental and energy security needs. Unfortunately, the
Lieberman-Warner bill as it is currently written fulfills only one of
those issues (environmental). Let’s hope that before the bill comes to
the floor of the Senate, the bill’s sponsors make changes to it to
accommodate the other parts of the full equation.


Helping the Economy During an Economic Downturn


When writing about coal in the newspaper or the blogosphere, people often omit the positive impacts coal has on America.

Besides providing 50 percent of our domestic electricity, coal also has
a huge, positive impact on our economy. And in our current economic
state, that’s a great thing. In an article in today’s Washington Post, writers Steven Mufson and Blaine Harden highlight why coal is so important to this country’s financial well-being.

Coal is the only fuel the United States can export more of than we
import. And with the growing demand in Asia (as illustrated by the
great graphic that accompanies the Post’s article), the United States is helping fill that need. These exports are a welcome boon to the economy.

Most of the above-mentioned boom in demand is occurring in China, where
new coal-generated power plants are being built every week or so. And
as I’ve mentioned before, India is not far behind.

So no matter what is happening here in the discussions over coal, there is no stopping its use in these developing giants.

That leaves it up to us to be sure we keep putting dollars into funding
clean coal technology research. Remember, if we lead the way in
creating and implementing the best ways to use coal, we won’t only be
exporting the fuel, but U.S.-bred technology as well. China and India’s
demand won’t subside, but with our help in developing cleaner ways to
use coal, the future will be brighter for everyone.


Mercury 101…Let’s Be Clear on the Facts


ABEC has been talking about mercury issues for years. To be sure,
mercury and methylmercury are very complicated issues, but keep in mind
that substantial reductions in power plant mercury emissions will
reduce only a small fraction of the methylmercury to which we are

Mercury occurs naturally in the earth’s core. About half the world’s
airborne mercury emissions come from natural sources like oceans, soil,
and forest fires, and the other half is attributable to sources
associated with human activities, like burning coal, alkali and metal
processing, medical and other waste, and mining of gold.

Coal-based power plants in the U.S. contribute about 40 percent of
U.S. airborne mercury emissions associated with human activities, about
10 percent of U.S. emissions when natural sources are counted, and
about one percent of total global emissions. To become methylmercury in
fish, airborne mercury has to be deposited back to the earth, enter
water bodies, be converted to methylmercury by microorganisms in the
sediments, and be taken up by fish.

Human exposure to methylmercury comes from fish and most of the fish we
eat come from the ocean. The methylmercury in ocean fish comes mostly
from natural sources in the deep oceans, meaning that there has been
methylmercury in ocean fish since there were fish. Global sources of
man-made mercury could also contribute but given that U.S. power plants
account for only one percent of global mercury emissions, eliminating
them would have no detectable effect on fish, our biggest source of
methylmercury exposure.

Most of the mercury that is deposited in the U.S. and is available
to become methylmercury in freshwater fish comes from global sources.
That mercury is both natural in origin and is associated with human
activities, especially with power plants in India and China, which lack
basic pollution control requirements. Further reducing or even
attempting to eliminating U.S. coal-based power plants will have no
impact on those sources.


Putting Carbon Back Where We Found It


I’m often asked about the emerging technology to capture and store
carbon. That is, what happens to the carbon emissions that would
otherwise be released into the atmosphere?

Well, a good way to think about this is to remember the advice that
our parents gave us as children: “If you take something out, remember
to put it back where you found it.”

The CO2 comes from the ground, where it is locked inside the coal.
When we burn the coal to make electricity, the CO2 is released. New
technology will allow us to capture that CO2 before it enters the
atmosphere and then — as our parents told us — put it back in the
ground where we found it.

Will this really work? Yes, but there is still work to be done on how to ensure that the CO2 stays in the ground.

Developments in this area are popping up every day. For example, the March issue of Discovery magazine talks about research in England on permanent carbon storage.

The magazine says researchers at the University of Leeds believe
sandstone could rapidly absorb CO2 and provide a safe, leakproof

“Porous, feldspar-rich sandstone formations are abundant worldwide,” the article says.

The National Resources Defense council is on board with carbon capture
and storage… maybe this new development will win over the remaining

In the meantime, it is precisely why the U.S. government should invest
in more research — new technologies are emerging all the time and we
have to help them along.