The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Summit at The Greenbrier this year includes a panel called, “Preserving West Virginia’s Coal Industry.” Speakers include economists from WVU and Marshall, a top coal industry engineer and executive, and a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But oddly, the lead-in speaker for this “save coal” event is a guy who just last week issued a statement that condemned American Electric Power’s efforts to perfect and deploy “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS — a technology that most experts believe is the coal industry’s only chance to survive international efforts to mitigate global warming.
Here’s the scoop:
The Chamber announced last Wednesday that it was giving a major platform at the Business Summit to Steven J. Milloy, the founder of the Web site JunkScience.com. Milloy is expected to talk about his book, Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them,” as an introduction to the “save coal” session.
Steve Roberts, the Chamber president, said:
Steve Milloy’s remarks will be timely and interesting, given the current controversies that are being driven by the debate over environmental issues such as global warming, energy use and the economic impacts of all of this. West Virginia is one of the states that could be affected significantly depending on how things go with the scientific and political debate over current environmental issues.
The following day, American Electric Power announced that it was seeking “clean coal” money from the Obama administration’ s stimulus plan to expand a key CCS test project at its Mountaineer Power Plant in New Haven, Mason County. AEP wants $334 million from the latest U.S. Department of Energy grant program, enough to pay half the costs of expanding the test project from its current 30-megawatt equivalent CO2 stream to a 230-megwatt equivalent streams.
Milloy and his Web site didn’t waste anytime … the following day, Friday, they attacked the AEP grant application in a blog post and a news released headlined:
Utility Wants to Pour $334 Million of Taxpayer Money Down Carbon Capture Rat Hole
Who is Milloy? Well, he’s one of those deniers who questions whether global warming is a problem. He’s also questioned whether range of poisons — from dioxin to second-hand smoke — really hurt you. But Milloy has also been criticized for his close financial and organizational ties to the tobacco and oil industries. See here and here, for a couple of examples.
What’s Milloy’s beef with the AEP CCS project? It’s that this project alone would only reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by 0.0065 parts per million by volume … completely ignoring the fact that this is meant to be a test project — not the ultimate answer alone to rising global temperatures.
Remember that, despite the HUGE questions facing CCS, all sorts of pretty smart folks think it might be the coal industry’s only chance to survive as part of the future energy mix as the world moves to fight global warming. Who says so? How about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, experts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Academy of Sciences? Even the National Mining Association supports CCS as “the most promising and effective options for large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions from energy use.”
Pat Hemlepp, a spokesman for AEP, said today that his company saw Milloy’s press release and doesn’t dispute the numbers:
Of course, we never claimed that this one project would solve global climate issues.
Many scientists and public officials have pushed for a reduction in CO2 emissions. It is expected that we will soon have either legislation or EPA regulation requiring reductions. Since the use of coal, the nation’s most plentiful and least expensive energy source, is also a significant source of CO2 emissions, it’s vital to have solutions to address those emissions. We’re pushing for a solution.
The first installation of any technology will obviously be more expensive than later installations when the technology is commercially available. For instance, the first installation of flue gas desulfurization (or scrubbers), designed to reduce sulfur dioxide emisisons that cause acid rain, was extremely expensive compared to later versions and addressed only a tiny fraction of the acid rain problem. But you don’t hear anyone claiming that money invested to push deployment of that technology was wasted now that FGD technology is in wide use and has addressed much of the acid rain problem. CCS will be just as important for greenhouse gas emissions once the technology is commercially available and widely deployed.
AEP is a first-mover on CCS, pushing the development of a technology that is important to address climate concerns while protecting the nation’s energy supply and economy. First-movers who push the commercialization of technology will face higher costs than those who wait for others to act. But without efforts like ours, the availability of solutions for carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants will be needlessly delayed.
As for AEP’s DOE grant application:
It’s an appropriate use of federal stimulus funds to spur the advancement of the technology and to offset the financial penalty facing our customers and our company for taking the initiative.