Archive for May, 2008

The Coal Renaissance

No matter what decisions we make here in America regarding how we use coal to generate electricity, there is no stopping its use in other parts of the world.

The New York Times makes that point perfectly today. Countries with long-dormant coal industries – like Japan and Britain – are beginning to ramp up coal production because of the high costs of other fuels.

That’s why we need to be sure we keep putting dollars into funding clean coal technology research. We already export coal – and if we lead the way in creating and implementing the best ways to use it, we’ll be exporting U.S. – developed technology as well.

The world’s demand for coal won’t subside, but with our help in developing cleaner ways to use it, the future will be brighter for everyone.

FutureGen Dropped From Spending Bill

Senators dropped the original FutureGen project from the
supplemental war spending bill last night in a unanimous consent request.

If the senators decided that this wasn’t the best vehicle
for FutureGen, so be it.

But the project still needs to be voted on, and quickly at
that — the original FutureGen agreement runs out on June 15.

As I said last week, Congress should follow through with its
original commitment to ensure that we have the technology to meet our goal of
reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the utility sector, and the FutureGen
project as it is now scheduled to be demonstrated in Mattoon, Ill.,
is a key component of that effort.

Studies Agree… Lieberman-Warner Would Cause Energy Costs To Rise

While there is much uncertainty swirling around the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, one thing is for certain: if it passes, consumer energy prices will rise.

That is the consensus that came out of this morning’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s hearing on Capitol Hill, when representatives from several government agencies testified regarding Lieberman-Warner’s economic impact.

Senators heard about studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Information Administration and many others. Each study has different numbers and makes different assumptions about the economy and our future energy usage.
But they agree on one point: costs will go up.

The prospect of higher energy costs should worry the average American consumer who is already being bitten by high fuel costs. Every day, it seems, we’re being reminded of the linkage between higher energy costs and our economy.

But where we take issue with the Lieberman-Warner bill is that we believe that there are ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without unnecessarily increasing energy costs on American consumers. We’re committed to supporting a mandatory federal program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… it’s just that we can’t support a bill that doesn’t also do everything possible to keep energy costs affordable for American families and businesses.

Given that this bill is essentially not going anywhere during this term of Congress (even it if were to pass the Senate, there is little to no appetite to consider a bill in the House this year), senators would be better served to “keep their powder dry” and instead look for alternative strategies that would achieve emissions reductions, protect energy security and keep energy costs affordable for consumers.

The Future Of FutureGen

It’s been a big day for clean coal technology on Capitol Hill.

Good news emerged from the FutureGen Senate hearing this morning when Sen. Byron
Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Appropriation’s energy and water
subcommittee, said that lawmakers would likely keep the original
FutureGen project alive until our next president has a chance to
evaluate it.

Congress should follow through in demonstrating its commitment to
ensure that we have the technology to meet our goal of reducing
greenhouse gas emissions in the utility sector, and the FutureGen
project as it is now scheduled to be demonstrated in Mattoon, Ill., is a
key component of that effort.

Some are now suggesting that the Department of Energy’s reluctance
to move forward with the original FutureGen plan appears to be a matter
of political wrangling over the location. And despite the claims of
some, this was never an indictment of the technology.

As I’ve said here before, in order to meet the goal of having
widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies in a
timely manner, there will need to be a stronger commitment from both
the public and private sector.

Otherwise, it will be unlikely that America will be able to achieve the
goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the utility sector and
still meet the nation’s growing demand for affordable, reliable


New Discoveries in Carbon Capture


As scientists continue to research cleaner and better ways to use coal
and store carbon, many interesting discoveries are being made.

Back in March,
we talked about how researchers at the University of Leeds in England
believe sandstone could rapidly absorb CO2 and provide a safe,
leakproof reservoir.

Now, according to an article in Discovery News,
scientists at Cornell have found that “biochar" might be a long-term
carbon-storing option. (Biochar, the story explains, is a charcoal
produced from the remains of plants that have burned in forestfires.)

Hey, I don’t know what will become of this research. But I do know that already, the U.S. government has verified that North America has enough storage capacity for more than 900 years worth of carbon dioxide.

So it’s only good news that new techniques are popping up every day that could add even more years to that number.

Every day we are finding new ways to capture carbon, and these
discoveries illustrate the need to continue funding clean coal
technology research.


Enviro Infighting


I read today
that environmentalists are divided about carbon capture. While
Greenpeace is going around saying that carbon capture is a "pipe
dream," other environmental advocacy groups are taking a less cynical

The World Wide Fund for Nature, an international group that boasts over
5 million supporters, has come out in support of carbon capture as a
way to use technology to make coal as clean as possible.

On its Web site, the WWF (side note: it’s still hard for me to see that
acronym without thinking of the old World Wrestling Federation… but I
digress) has a report called "Vision for 2050" (click for PDF),
which says the group has questions about carbon capture but that "it is
essential that fossil-fuel plants are equipped with carbon capture and
storage technology as soon as possible – all by 2050." The report
continues: "Clearly, while zero- and low-emission technologies are
being brought to maturity and widely deployed, coal, oil, and gas will
continue to play a part in the energy mix."

Now, keep in mind, WWF isn’t crazy about coal. But they take the
reasonable position that we can’t meet our energy needs (both here in
the U.S. as well as around the world) without coal, so pursuing the
carbon capture option may be necessary to meeting our energy and
environmental goals.

Anyway, back to that article I mentioned at the top of this post…
there’s seems to be some interesting divergence of opinions among
environmental groups on this issue. Besides WWF, several national
branches of Friends of the Earth refused to sign the Greenpeace
statement criticizing CCS.

I, for one, am hopeful. We would look forward to working with some of
these groups that believe that investing in the research, development
and deployment of carbon capture technologies is an important part of
our energy and environmental strategy. As I say all the time, some
people are looking for a "silver bullet," but meeting this challenge
will require something more along the line of "silver buckshot."


Who Left the Light On?


Last night, I went to a community forum at a local church here in
Northern Virginia. One of the event organizers had a very strong
opinion that the local utility should do more to encourage energy
efficiency as opposed to building a new advanced coal-based power plant
that is needed to meet projected energy demand.

But is it really the utility’s responsibility to provide incentives for us the consumer to be more energy efficient?

I left the forum and came back to my hotel room. When I walked in
the door to the unoccupied room, three lights and the flat screen
television were all on! My guess is that they had been left on since
the housekeeping staff did evening turn-down service — or, even worse,
since the room was cleaned earlier in the day.

The fact is, the utility didn’t turn on the lights or the television
and force the hotel to pay for electricity it wasn’t using. So why do
people think that utilities (talking more broadly here) are not doing
enough to urge us as consumers to do more to save electricity?

The bottom line is that electricity generators must produce
electricity to meet consumer demand. We as consumers establish that
demand based upon our behavior.

I think we’re all doing some good work in this area, but it is too
easy for some folks to shift the blame clearly where it doesn’t belong.
If we want to see more done to increase energy efficiency, let’s not
blame the electricity generators who simply produce the electricity the
consumers are demanding.

We probably need to do more to increase businesses such as hotels
and office buildings that stay lit up at night. (In fact, even before
the recent “Earth Hour,” I had suggested efforts to ensure that lights
in cities are turned off at night … EVERY NIGHT).