Archive for April, 2010

The Coal Wire: April 30, 2010

Coal wireThe Economist (4/23): “[U.S. Energy Secretary Steven] Chu’s policy shift that axed research on hydrogen cars simultaneously poured $1 billion of stimulus money into a clean-coal project called FutureGen that the Bush administration abandoned in 2008. Though it appears to all intents and purposes like a state-of-the-art power station, FutureGen is actually a huge hydrogen production facility in disguise.”

Roll Call (4/27): “In late May, [Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.)] is also expected to visit China on official business. According to a letter signed by Gordon, the delegation will meet with the chairman of the National People’s Congress Science, Education, Culture and Public Health Committee to discuss ‘renewable energy along with a look at China’s work on clean coal and space and aeronautics issues.’”

Calgary Herald (4/27): “In passing Bill 50, the Alberta government appears to have entrenched coal as the dominant fuel source for power generation in the province because it supports the infrastructure of power being generated in the north — by coal plants — and shipped southward. Alberta already is among the largest per capita emitters of CO2 and supporting additional coal-fired electricity by building more transmissions lines appears to go against where [Canada Minister of the Environment Jim] Prentice is heading.”

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, The Daily Mail (4/29): “We want to make Virginia the East Coast energy leader with nuclear, coal. We think we have the chance to bring the first American reactor online in 13 years…We’re building a coal-fired electric generating plant in Wise County and have another in consideration in Surry County. And we have the largest coal export terminal in the United States.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, The Hindu (4/29): “I agree with you absolutely that China and India are not going to turn their back on coal, and so we have to develop the technologies that can use coal cleanly…The United States, quite frankly, I don’t believe will turn its back on coal as well. So we need to develop these clean coal technologies.”

A shift in the climate discussion

There has been a shift in the climate discussion of late. More than ever, people are talking more about environmental policy in terms of strengthening energy security and stabilizing our economy.

Many people understand that part of the answer must depend on the commercial deployment of clean coal technology – not only will it help solve the climate change issue, it has other added benefits.

Clean coal can protect and create jobs and increase our energy security while reducing the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. Even better, we’ve already got carbon capture and storage demonstration projects in operation all over the country.

Now it’s a matter of fleshing out the details on funding and innovation. Public-private partnerships are crucial to both, and the energy conversation will be centered on these two points in the upcoming months as potential climate legislation picks up steam.

What’s your take on the issue?

Pitt researchers approach clean coal from many angles

Scientists and engineers know that coal is going to be a part of our energy portfolio for many decades to come – but they also understand we need to deploy emissions-cutting technologies in order to continue using it.

That’s why the Center for Energy at the University of Pittsburgh is heavily focused on developing the most cutting-edge innovations for fossil fuels in addition to renewables like wind and solar. Pitt researchers want to push the envelope for cleaner, more efficient coal-based electricity generation.

Just take a look at their clean coal initiatives – they include converting coal to clean energy sources, cleanly combusting coal, storing carbon dioxide underground and creating new sensors for more efficient fossil fuel plants.

Here are some more projects that the Center is working on. Click on each link to read about its concept, benefits and technical approach:

CO2 Capture from Power Generation Facilities Using Novel Physical Solvents

Reflection Seismic Imaging: Advanced Seismic Processing and Survey Minimization Related to CO2 Sequestration

As you can see, the Center’s clean coal initiatives cover different parts of the energy cycle, from pre-combustion to post-combustion. It’s good to know that people are approaching the technology from across the spectrum. Support the Center for Energy and become a fan of the University of Pittsburgh on Facebook.

Bay City coal plant focuses on land preservation

Coal wire
Recently, the team and I wrapped up an America’s PowerSM Factuality Tour stop in Bay City, Mich., a great little town right on the edge of Lake Huron.

During our trip, we spent a lot of time talking to locals about a new expansion project at the nearby Consumers Energy Karn/Weadock power plant. Almost everyone we spoke to was excited about the job opportunities it would bring, so we decided to head down to the construction site to check out the project for ourselves.

I learned a lot during my visit to the plant, but two things stuck out at me the most. First of all, there’s no question in my mind that Consumers Energy takes protecting the environment very seriously.

At the beginning of the tour, I met up with Dennis Dobbs, site manager of Karn/Weadock. He showed me the layout of the new 830-megawatt facility and told me that most of the buildings around the unit would mainly be used for emissions-control technologies. He also reassured me that the older units would be retrofitted with the latest clean coal technologies.

Secondly, I was impressed by the company’s efforts in preserving and protecting the plant’s natural surroundings. Dobbs took me to the plant’s Wildlife Habitat Area, where – in addition to an eagle’s nest – there’s a raptor rehabilitation center for injured birds.

“Protecting the environment is extremely important to us,” says Dobbs. “We have folks that are dedicated every day that are out here trying to make sure we’re meeting all the regulations and doing things the right way.”

Karn/Weadock’s actions speak even louder than their words. Watch the video above and let us know what you think. And be sure to go to the Factuality Tour Website for more interviews, blog posts and photos from our Bay City trip.

Coal can help ease electricity costs

It isn’t just by chance that some of the states with the lowest electricity prices also happen to get more of their electricity from coal.

The fact of the matter is coal costs significantly less than other major fossil fuel sources. States that use a large amount of coal-generated electricity are more likely to see those low-cost effects on their energy bills.

For example:

• Coal provides Wyoming with a whopping 94.5 percent of its power, leaving the state with the second-lowest energy costs.

• Kentuckians pay the nation’s 4th lowest prices for electricity, thanks in part to coal’s 93 percent stake in the state’s energy portfolio.

• Utah, a state that uses coal for 81 percent of its energy, has the 7th lowest electricity cost in the country.

Cases like these show that using coal-generated electricity can have a positive impact on energy bills. And it’s especially important for those who need help the most. One of our most recent studies showed that energy costs will continue to take up a growing percentage of household budgets, particularly for low and fixed-income families.

Lower-income households are more vulnerable to energy cost increases because energy represents a larger portion of their overall budgets. So, for lower-income states like Arkansas – which according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has one of the lowest average household incomes in the country – having access to affordable energy can make meeting other needs easier.

Read the full study and check how much coal your state uses. You might be surprised with what you find.

Clean coal technology by the numbers

By now, you’ve probably seen our Clean Coal Technology map on the America’s PowerSM Web site. From the map, we know that there’s more than $12 billion in clean coal research in 43 states, even some not normally associated with coal production.

Those are some pretty impressive numbers. I’ve come up with a list of other interesting figures to illustrate the commitment that government and energy organizations are putting into the commercial deployment of clean coal technology.

Take a look:

• There are officially four clean coal projects listed in President Obama’s Clean Coal Power Initiative.

• Obama’s administration is pushing to have “five to 10” commercial clean coal power plants operating as demonstration projects by 2016.

• The U.S. Department of Energy manages more than 300 active research and development projects spanning a wide range of fossil fuels, including coal.

• Of those projects, 70 are focused on carbon sequestration technology.

• According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s latest database, there are 46 active carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects across the globe, including countries like China, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.

Fifteen of the projects mentioned above are located in the U.S.

• More than 60 organizations and institutions have partnered with the World Resources Institute to develop safe practices for CCS, including Harvard University, Southern Company and the Argonne National Laboratory.

These numbers show that people understand coal’s value as an abundant, affordable fuel source. They also demonstrate the extent to which they’re investing in clean coal research and are working to deploy carbon capture and sequestration. For even more figures, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s fossil fuel database.

Why Coal-Generated Electricity Matters to Bay City, Mich.

Coal wire

As you know, the Factuality Tour recently visited Bay City, Mich., where Consumers Energy’s Karn/Weadock coal plant – and the jobs it provides – has helped the town stay afloat during the recent economic downturn.

Now, a proposed 830-megawatt expansion project has residents excited about the future of Bay City. The expansion, which is planned for a site next to the existing Karn/Weadock plant, could create more than 1,800 jobs during construction and will provide Bay City and local industries with affordable, reliable electricity for the future.

Those jobs – and the other economic benefits that come along with them – are what have local officials, business owners and residents looking toward the future.

Check out our latest video to hear why Michigan State Rep. Jeff Mayes believes the expansion will help secure Michigan’s energy future and listen as William Borch Jr., of Iron Workers Local 25, talks about the importance of the high-quality jobs construction will create. You’ll also learn why the plant is so valuable to local restaurant owner Bruce Filipich and his patrons.

As the people of Bay City make clear, the Karn/Weadock coal plant has helped them stay afloat, even as other parts of Michigan struggle in the face of economic difficulties. They understand the importance of coal-generated electricity to our nation’s economy, and it’s no wonder they are excited for the future.

Be sure to visit the Factuality Tour Web site to see more photos, videos, blog posts and interviews from Bay City and other stops from around the country.

Texas plant pledge spurs group to withdraw opposition

I just ran across this story in the Dallas Morning News that shows how breakthroughs in clean coal technology can change the opinions of at least some national environmental groups. The story states that an accord reached yesterday between the Environmental Defense Fund and the power company Tenaska will clear some of the opposition to a new West Texas coal plant that promises to capture 85 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the report, if the plan comes through, Tenaska’s new Trailblazer Energy Center would be among the first big, commercial-scale coal plants in the US to slash the amount of CO2 being emitted. The plant would also “reduce potential water use.” In exchange for Tenaska’s pledges, the major environmental group “agreed to withdraw from an ongoing Texas permit hearing that seeks to block the 600-megawatt plant.”

Under the pledge, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports the Tenaska facility “would capture at least 85 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and use a cooling method that could slash water consumption by about 90 percent.” The Environmental Defense Fund described the pledge as “‘the kind of thing we need to solve the problem of global warming’ and might become a ‘role model’ for the U.S.” The Wall Street Journal also reported the story.

Last year as part of our ongoing Factuality Tour, I had a chance to talk with Dr. Greg Kunkel of Tenaska about the project. Check out the video here to see what he had to say about many of the cutting-edge features of the proposed project.