Archive for April, 2009

When It Comes to Energy Investments, Here’s Our Two Cents

We know we have our critics, but the least our critics can do is get their facts right.

Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress wrote a rambling post on his blog about the amount of money ACCCE members spend on research and development but failed to keep his facts straight.

Weiss said that ACCCE members “spent less than two cents in research on ‘clean coal’ for every $1 of profit” – where did he get these figures? Did he have a comparable number from other energy sectors? (Because it has always been my experience that the private sector funding, at least for federal R&D programs, has always enjoyed higher private sector participation than say, other energy sector projects.)

Also, how did Weiss account for the high number of projects going on in the private sector without any public funding that is not easily known to the public because they are developing proprietary technologies? (I was just on a panel last night with one such entrepreneur.)

The figure Weiss quoted is useless without the context of other industries or any consideration for these other factors. It shows that he’s just repeating the “party line” if he was to run down coal, without providing any credible alternatives.

Also, Weiss didn't address the fact that many ACCCE members are highly diversified companies with revenue and investments coming from many sectors of the economy (not just coal), meaning they may invest varying amounts of their research and development budget on clean coal technology (CCT).

Calling GE (an ACCCE member) a “coal company” is like calling JP Morgan Chase “a place where you get change for a dollar,” and I’ve pointed this out to Weiss several times, but he still ignores this huge flaw in his work.

And remember, CCT (as coined by Congress) refers to an entire suite of technologies that work to produce electricity from coal while achieving significant reduction in air emissions. For years, this has meant reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other gases. And the next generation of CCT will include technologies that capture and store CO2.

By the way, I tried to post this comment on the Center for American Progress Web site, but unlike our blog, Weiss’ article won’t accept comments.

Next time around, I hope Weiss is a little clearer.

Comparing climate change goals to weight loss

In her remarks commemorating Earth Day yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paralleled global climate goals to weight loss. It may seem like a goofy analogy, but the secretary has a point:

"Oftentimes when you face such an overwhelming challenge as global climate change is, it can be somewhat daunting. It’s kind of like trying to lose weight—which I know something about. It's kind of like trying to lose weight — which I know something about. Where you think, you know, 'Oh, I only have to lose X number of pounds.' But it can seem like such a faraway goal."

Secretary Clinton goes on to imply that we can achieve large goals by breaking them down into smaller, easier to hit targets. This stair-stepped approach is one we’ve been talking about for months: 1) slow emissions growth; 2) stop emissions growth; 3) reverse emissions growth.

The idea of setting ourselves up to succeed is one that ACCCE has been talking about for a long time, especially in regard to developing climate legislation.
By working together to develop commercial carbon capture technologies and set incremental standards for utilities, we can reach our long-term global emissions reductions goals while protecting American families and businesses from higher energy costs.

Shouldn’t the facts matter?

I know that there are just some people who are opposed to coal, and opposed to using it, regardless of the facts. I guess that is their prerogative, but does that mean they can say things are clearly untrue?

Last week in an interview on PBS, anti-coal author Jeff Goodell said that a coal plant built today is really no different that a coal plant built 30 years ago.

Then, last night on the Ed Shultz show, Dan Weiss from the Center for American Progress and I were both being interviewed on the subject of clean coal when Dan Weiss made the same statement. While I was quick to try and point out why Dan was wrong, I didn’t have to—Ed Shultz himself challenged Dan on that point.

The fact is, both Jeff Goodell and Dan Weiss are wrong. New coal plants built today emit fewer pollutants in terms of traditional pollutant emissions (those currently regulated under the federal Clean Air Act ) and are more efficient in terms of CO2 (fewer emissions per unit of energy produced). As I said last night, this is the same principle as driving a more fuel-efficient car (something that I’m sure Dan and Jeff both think is a good idea, but their anti-coal bias keeps them for seeing why this matters when it comes to coal plants).
In the long-run, this is important because increased efficiency will ultimately mean less CO2 will need to be captured and stored.

The facts do matter. That is why we are very careful to provide substantiation for the facts we use as we promote this dialogue. And you can keep us honest in that regard. But when you post to the blog, we’re also going to hold you to the same standard. If you’re just sharing your opinion, be prepared that we’ll probably ask you to back it up with some facts.

Energy enthusiasts find common ground on emissions

If you watch some of the more negative television ads out there talking about energy issues, you’d get the idea that people who work on renewables don’t like the folks working on coal R&D projects that much. Well, luckily, what we see on TV isn’t always a good representation of what happens in the real world.

During the sessions at George Washington University’s symposium for accelerating greenhouse gas reductions, we were struck by how much respect was observed between researchers who were working to advance carbon capture and those who were working to advance renewable energy.

During his presentation on solar energy, Ken Zweibel, director of GWU’s Institute for the Analysis of Solar Energy, said that people studying renewables and people studying carbon capture were not all that different—they both have the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. The difference, he said, is that they are approaching the issue from two different angles.

If you follow the media’s interpretation of how the different energy sectors interact (or perhaps, by the commentary on some environmental blogs), you might think that we all fight like cats and dogs or tear down one another's research.

Today was living proof that that’s simply not the case. In fact, Mr. Zweibel said at the start of his solar energy lecture that he would “hate to see CCS be taken off the table” due to regulatory disconnects or hold-ups, and that solar energy is another option on the table to help us reduce CO2 emissions from electricity production and increase domestic energy production. Said Zweibel: “We need our energy here [in the US].”

And he’s right—we absolutely need all of our domestic energy sources to meet our growing energy and environmental challenges. We’re happy to have been part of the symposium at George Washington University and to have gotten the chance to work alongside these great thinkers and innovators.

How will carbon capture affect your utility bill?

I know, I talk a lot about the need to keep the compliance costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions affordable, and there is really some promising news on that front.

At George Washington University’s Accelerating Greenhouse Gas Reductions symposium, Professor Ed Rubin from Carnegie Mellon University gave attendees an update on carbon capture and sequestration technologies, including cost estimates and the overall importance of the technology in our low-carbon toolkit.

From the outset, Professor Rubin stated that “coal will not go away for many decades” and that alternative sources would not easily be able to achieve the large CO2 reductions needed to stabilize CO2 concentrations.

“[CCS] would allow continued coal use as a bridge to a more sustainable future,” said Professor Rubin, noting that CCS was also a potential link to carbon-free transportation, as the cheapest way to make hydrogen was from coal (hydrogen, of course, is seen as a possible alternative to traditional gasoline).

Moreover, Professor Rubin said that economic models show that including CCS in a portfolio of low-carbon energy options significantly reduces the costs of mitigating climate change. If we were talking about needing to hit smaller reduction numbers, he said, we’d be talking about a different type of solution.

But just how much will carbon capture technology cost? And how will it affect your utility bills?

Professor Rubin said that if we apply today’s carbon capture technology to a gasification plant, the initial capital and generating costs would increase 30 to 50 percent. However, these are not increases consumers would immediately see in their monthly utility bill, as utility bills reflect costs from a mix of electricity generation.

In the long-term, CCS has great implications for the cost of electricity, said the professor, who cited DOE figures that CCS could potentially reduce the total cost of electricity by 19-28 percent.

While the benefits of commercial-scale CCS are many for the economy, climate and our national security, Professor Rubin along with the other panelists noted that we need to start walking the walk—and that government action is needed to help us remove legal and regulatory impediments that slow our technological success.

Who will win the race to commercial CCS?

In the last few decades, we’ve seen countries race to develop new technologies, from state-of-the-art weapons to putting a person on the moon.

Now, it seems we’re in a race to see who will develop the first commercial-scale (~500 MW) coal-based power plant equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology. The U.S. is close, with its myriad carbon capture demonstration projects; and the UK and Australia are also staking their claim in the CCS race. But who did Carnegie Mellon Professor, Ed Rubin say is a wise bet?


It seems hard to believe that the developing nation who has in the past shunned a commitment to reducing emissions may be the first country to build a commercial-scale plant with carbon capture technology.

Speaking at George Washington University’s Accelerating Greenhouse Gas Reductions symposium, Professor Rubin said that the US has been “talking the talk” in regard to deploying commercial CCS, “but not walking the walk. As far as I can tell, no one has put $1 million in a lock box for commercial carbon capture.”

So how can the US reemerge as a global leader in technology and innovation?

Professor Rubin cited policy as an obstacle in CCS deployment, saying that it will not occur without a strong policy driver. The upside? The recent stimulus package and draft climate change bill have included money and incentives for carbon capture.

Professor Rubin concluded his session by saying that the West is “an important source of leadership” for carbon capture. We know we can guide the way.

Pew Center: Government action needed on CCS

It seems that everywhere you go, more and more people are talking about carbon capture and storage (CCS) as being a key and essential element in meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

At George Washington University’s greenhouse reductions symposium this week, Steve Caldwell, regional policy coordinator for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, outlined a few provisions their group would like to see included in upcoming climate change policy.

Caldwell acknowledged that carbon capture and sequestration technology, while not a silver bullet, is critical to reducing costs associated with greenhouse gas abatement. To get there, Caldwell outlined a number of policy recommendations, including government action on CCS to:

• Resolve key legal and regulatory barriers

• Fund commercial CCS demonstrations

• Deploy by 2015 5 GW of coal-powered plants with CCS and at least one pulverized coal retrofit

• Create a dedicated and protected trust for CCS programs

As we’ve said before, the government plays an essential role in helping us get carbon capture technologies to market—and that includes helping to secure funding and policies that help insulate the public from some of the financial risks that come with technological advancements.

Washington Post: Chu disagrees with Al Gore when it comes to coal

For the second time in a week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has come out in support of clean coal technology (CCT) – this time in an interview with the Washington Post.

Most interestingly, the Post says Chu disagrees with his friend Al Gore when it comes to CCT.

While Chu believes “we really have to take the lead, the technological lead” in the development of these technologies, Gore has spent millions of dollars in ads denigrating the progress made with CCT.

Chu went on to say he wants to “try to develop technologies that can get a large fraction of the carbon dioxide out of coal. Start with 70, 80 percent and build up to over 90 percent, but start now and try to get it out,” before adding he believes we will be successful.

Along with CCT, Chu spoke of the importance of our solar and nuclear industries. We’re glad our energy secretary recognizes coal’s importance in our country’s energy mix – and like us, he knows we can’t solve the puzzle we face with one fuel alone.

Click here to watch Secretary Chu’s interview with the Post in its entirety.