Coal Tattoo

It wasn’t so terribly long ago that Energy Secretary Steven Chu described coal as  “my worst nightmare,” and questioned whether carbon capture and storage, or CCS, would save the mining industry.

During a talk back when he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Stanford University professor, Chu — a Nobel Prize-winning physicist — described his concerns about CCS this way:

It’s sort of a research and development issue. I think we have to do this if we’re going to go forward with coal, but it’s not a guarantee that we have a solution with coal.

You can go back and read my story about those comments here, or watch the whole speech on YouTube (The coal comments are at about 28 minutes in):

Chu backed off of those statements a bit during a confirmation hearing in January 2009, saying coal is a “nightmare” only if its greenhouse emissions aren’t controlled.

Since then, Chu and his DOE have joined with the Obama administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in issuing a major report that embraced CCS as doable as one of the nation’s key future energy strategies.

Some West Virginia political and business leaders felt quite a snub when Chu did not show up for the October 2009 dedication ceremony for American Electric Power’s major CCS test project at its Mountaineer Plant in Mason County. Maybe Chu will make up for it tomorrow, when he appears at a 3 p.m. event at the University of Charleston as part of the university’s series of speakers on coal and energy.

Looking back on Chu’s “my worst nightmare” comments, there really was little there that did not reflect the state of the science on CCS. As reported many times here on Coal Tattoo, there are lots of hurdles — from cost to scale to safety — and many questions about CCS. But most serious experts believe CCS is the only thing that can help the coal industry survive any limits on greenhouse emissions.

But the press releases about the administration’s new report on CCS certainly sound a lot more optimistic than Chu was back then.  For example, according to the release:

President Obama’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), co-chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), delivered a series of recommendations to the president today on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years. CCS is a group of technologies for capturing, compressing, transporting and permanently storing power plant and industrial source emissions of carbon dioxide. Rapid development and deployment of clean coal technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS), will help position the United States as a leader in the global clean energy race. The report concludes that CCS can play an important role in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions while preserving the option of using coal and other abundant domestic fossil energy resources.

I plan to cover Chu’s talk here in Charleston, and I’m especially interested in hearing what he has to say about the continued inaction on a more comprehensive energy and climate bill. And I’ d like to ask him if he thinks the bill being promoted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller — which would pump money into CCS, but not cap carbon dioxide emissions — is enough to help get this technology perfected and deployed.