Coal Tattoo


This just in from West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s press office … the state Department of Environmental Protection has approved AEP’s permit application for pumping carbon dioxide from its Mountaineer Plant in Mason County underground…

The release quotes the governor:

I’ve always said that we need to discover modern and more environmentally friendly ways to use the tremendous resource we have in West Virginia coal. That technology is here, today, and we are working hard to find even more innovative energy solutions that create jobs for West Virginians, while also protecting our environment.

OK, let’s set aside for a minute the fact that the governor  is issuing a news release about a permit issued by DEP. When inconvenient things like taking sides between mountaintop removal and a wind farm come up, Manchin’s staff insist the governor isn’t involved in permits being issued by DEP.

So what doesn’t the news release make clear? Well, the technology isn’t really here today — a pilot, test project that is pretty darned small is here today.

As I’ve written before:

…AEP gets a lot of credit for installing carbon capture equipment at its Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.Va. But press accounts often fail to mention that this pilot project deals with just about 1 percent of the plant’s total CO2 output. (Of course, this is better than the AEP IGCC plant proposed for nearby — which was approved by the West Virginia PSC, despite not having any carbon capture controls at all).

The press release from Manchin mentions this:

The permit allows the facility to capture and inject up to a maximum of 165,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year over a period of four to five years, using a process called carbon capture and storage.

But, it doesn’t put that 165,000 metric tons into perspective, explaining that it’s really a very, very small amount of all greenhouse gases released by this AEP plant. The numbers have changed a bit (and the units are different — metric tons versus short tons) from the original AEP announcement two years ago about this project, which said:

The first project will test the method on a small emissions stream — representing about 30 megawatts of the plant’s total production of 1,300 megawatts — at the Mountaineer Plant, AEP said.

This process should capture about 110,000 tons of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the Mountaineer Plant emitted a total of 9.3 million tons of carbon dioxide, officials said.

But the fact remains that this is a small pilot project. Is it worthy of praise? Sure. But how about some persepctive. Global warming — and the challenges it presents for the coal industry — calls for straight talk, not PR games.

At least one energy expert has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fired power plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars.

It doesn’t do the public a bit of good for politicians to make this task sound easier than it is.