Coal Tattoo

Can Sen. Rockefeller lead on global warming?

Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

The University of Charleston’s forum on CCS brought a rare bit of calm and reason into West Virginia’s ongoing discussions about the future of our coal industry.

It was impressive and refreshing to have the nation’s Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, on stage with longtime Sen. Jay Rockefeller, hashing out the importance of this technology if coal mining is going to continue in a carbon-constrained world. (See our Gazette print story on the event here)

Unfortunately, there was hardly any time at all for questions from the audience, and it was too bad that a bunch of folks from the industry front group America’s Power were trolling around in brand-name T-shirts as if it was their event.

During a very, very, very short question-and-answer session with the local media, I wondered if Secretary Chu was puzzled about why reporters kept asking him if coal miners should be afraid of the Obama administration or if CCS was going to put an end to coal mining:

Don’t fear the Obama administration … we’re trying to help not only West Virginia, but the rest of the country.

And Chu had to repeat this line about CCS at least twice before the local media seemed to understand what he was getting at:

It will save coal.

Who knows if Secretary Chu’s calm, somewhat geeky presentation — complete with PowerPoint, of course — will convince any of the business and industry leaders at yesterday’s event that global warming is real and that if they want coal to survive they better start working harder to make CCS work.

But the impression I remain left with is of Sen. Rockefeller essentially stealing the show. As I wrote for our print edition:

Speaking alongside Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Rockefeller made perhaps his strongest statements to date in support of the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide emissions are changing the global climate in dangerous ways.

Rockfeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, also blasted industry leaders and members of West Virginia media who promote the notion that global warming isn’t real.

“I’m concerned that powerful voices in West Virginia continue to argue that climate change is a myth,” Rockefeller said. “I’m not on the same bandwagon that some of you are.”

The senator said that climate change skeptics are harming West Virginia by putting off efforts to perfect and deploy CCS, giving natural gas more time to cut into coal’s market and hurt mining’s long-term viability.

“Burying one’s head in the sand is not a solution, and can only backfire,” Rockefeller said.

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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.

AP report: Old-style coal plants expanding

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Jon LaCour, manager of the Wygen III coal-fired plant, looks over pollution control equipment built onto the recently completed $247 million plant in Wyodak, Wyo. Utilities across the country are building dozens of old style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate changing gases for decades. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Here’s a story just out by Matthew Brown of The Associated Press:

WYODAK, Wyo. (AP) — Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.

The expansion, the industry’s largest in two decades, represents an acknowledgment that highly touted “clean coal” technology is still a long ways from becoming a reality and underscores a renewed confidence among utilities that proposals to regulate carbon emissions will fail. The Senate last month scrapped the leading bill to curb carbon emissions following opposition from Republicans and coal-state Democrats.

“Building a coal-fired power plant today is betting that we are not going to put a serious financial cost on emitting carbon dioxide,” said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. “That may be true, but unless most of the scientists are way off the mark, that’s pretty bad public policy.”

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Marty Snell with Black Hills Power monitors a bank of computer screens used to track operations of the Wygen III power plant in Wyodak, Wyo. Utilities across the country are building dozens of old style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate changing gases for decades. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

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Energy Secretary Steven Chu coming to W.Va.

West Virginians will get a great chance early next month to hear about the Obama administration’s coal and energy policies directly from Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Secretary Chu is scheduled to take part in a forum on the future of coal at the University of Charleston. The Sept. 8 event is part of a series of coal and energy discussions hosted by U.C. and I’m proud to say is co-sponsored by The Charleston Gazette.

We had a brief item on the event in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, and more details are expected soon via the U.C. Web site.

It should be a great opportunity for folks who want to hear more about the promise — and the great problems — associated with carbon capture and storage technology, and hopefully for Secretary Chu to explain the fact that for CCS to be widely deployed, some sort of national policy to reduce greenhouse emissions is needed.

An Obama administration task force has concluded that carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is viable, especially if the federal government beefs up its efforts to encourage the technology.

But among the key hurdles, according to a news release just issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

A Carbon Price is Critical: Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS is best achieved with a carbon price, but there are market drivers and actions that can and are taking place now, which are essential to support near-term CCS demonstration projects that will pave the way for broader deployment after a carbon price is in place.

Of course, this is the very thing that many in the coal industry — and many of the industry’s political supporters, including West Virginia Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Carte Goodwin — oppose.

The report, available here, also outlines some of the other challenges that CCS faces:

Though CCS technologies exist, “scaling up” these existing processes and integrating them with coal-based power generation poses technical, economic, and regulatory challenges. In the electricity sector, estimates of the incremental costs of new coal-fired plants with CCS relative to new conventional coal-fired plants typically range from $60 to $95 per tonne of CO2 avoided (DOE, 2010a). Approximately 70–90 percent of that cost is associated with capture and compression. Some of this cost could be offset by the use of CO2 for EOR for which there is an existing market, but EOR options may not be available for many projects.

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President Barack Obama is introduced by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka before he spoke about jobs and the economy during an address before the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

In appearance yesterday before the AFL-CIO Executive Council, President Obama touted unionization of coal-mine workers, saying:

But it is my profound belief that companies are stronger when their workers are getting paid well and have decent benefits and are treated with dignity and respect. It is my profound belief that our government works best when it’s not being run on behalf of special interests, but it’s being run on behalf of the public interest, and that the dedication of public servants reflects that.

So FDR I think said — he was asked once what he thought about unions. He said, “If I was a worker in a factory and I wanted to improve my life, I would join a union.”

Well, I tell you what. I think that’s true for workers generally. I think if I was a coalminer, I’d want a union representing me to make sure that I was safe and you did not have some of the tragedies that we’ve been seeing in the coal industry.

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I just got out of a meeting between Gazette editors and Charles Patton, who is succeeding Dana Waldo as president of American Electric Power’s Appalachian Power subsidiary here in West Virginia.

It might come as a shocker to those in the coal world who are celebrating the death of congressional legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions, but here’s what Patton had to say about lawmakers’ inaction:

We were disappointed that no action was taken. We understand why there was great opposition in the Midwest and especially in coal-producing states.

But the dilemma we face as an industry is there appears to be some amount of inevitability that something in the carbon world is going to happen.

Patton — who spent a good share of his career working as a policy person and lobbyist for AEP and related companies — lamented that climate change legislation has become such a partisan issue in Washington, D.C., and noted that during the Bush administration many more Republicans (including Sen. John McCain) supported passage of a climate bill.

Clearly, power companies like AEP would prefer congressional action to greenhouse gas regulations written by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — and certainly to lawsuits and court rulings like the one AEP is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Patton noted that the industry needs certainty and predictability, and needs time to put into place whatever emissions controls are needed or fuel switches or other actions are required. And he knows that in order for carbon capture and storage technology to be widely deployed, utilities must be given an incentive to do so in the form of some kind of emissions limits:

We can’t turn on a dime. It takes years and years to plan and develop generation capacity. So we need to know what the future holds to allow us to successfully plan for the future.

I’ll have more from our discussion with Patton in tomorrow’s Gazette …

I was just checking out a new article in Chemical and Engineering News about the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, when I stumbled upon the headline of a complete separate story:

Carbon Dioxide’s Unsettled Future: Technologies to reel in greenhouse gas emissions abound, but can’t move forward without policy actions.

Here’s how it started:

With world population climbing, and energy demand along with it, countries are trying to figure out how to minimize the global-warming consequences of carbon-based energy …

… The challenges are enormous: Because of the differences in energy resources, nations around the world have different abilities to shift away from fossil fuel and to adopt technologies that reduce CO2 emissions.

And many of those technologies are not moving as fast as they could be because of uncertainty in public policies to reduce CO2 emissions.

Among other things, the story quotes George A. Richards, focus area leader for energy system dynamics a the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory:

It’s not just a matter of solving technical issues.  It is a matter of cost and social acceptance. Cost remains a bottleneck for carbon-capture technology, and regulatory certainty is needed before investments will be made in large-scale sequestration.

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New GAO report on carbon capture and storage

There’s a new U.S. Government Accountability Office report out today about the Department of Energy’s program concerning Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS.

Among the findings:

— DOE does not systematically assess the maturity of key coal technologies, but GAO found consensus that CCS is “less mature” that power plant efficiency technologies.

— Commercial deployment of CCS is possible within 10 to 15 years, while many efficiency technologies have been used and are available for use now. Both technologies, though, face a host of technical, financial and legal hurdles.

— In particular, related to CCS, GAO interviews with stakeholders “highlighted the large costs to install and operate current CCS technologies, the fact that large-scale demonstration of CCS is needed in coal plants, and the lack of a national carbon policy to reduce CO2 emissions or a legal framework to govern liability for the permanent storage of large amounts of CO2.”

Read the report here.

Sen. Rockfeller set to introduce new CCS bill

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller is set tomorrow to introduce new federal legislation aimed at encouraging the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage technology at coal-burning power plants across the country.

Rockefeller and his co-author, Ohio Republican George Voinovich, released a “discussion draft” of their Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Deployment Act of 2010 back in March and details on that are available here.

Sen. Rockefeller has recently voted in favor of a resolution that would have overturned EPA’s scientific findings that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public health and welfare, and has urged Congress to abandon comprehensive legislation to address climate change.

Yesterday, Sen. Rockfeller told The Hill he hasn’t been convinced yet to support legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions:

Nothing before me grabs my attention sufficiently.

Study: CCS could create 74,000 U.S. jobs by 2030

This just in:

According to a new study released today, accelerated deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology would lead to 74,000 permanent jobs attributable to CCS in the U.S. by 2030.  CCS deployment will also result in the net creation of 371,000 construction “job years” (each “job year” being one construction job for a year). The construction jobs would be focused in states with plants incorporating CCS technology – with an estimated 42,616 job years in Pennsylvania, 28,654 in Ohio, and 26,293 in Indiana, and would involve the building of more than 100 new plants throughout the U.S.

The study, released by the Clean Air Task Force, is available online here.

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WVDEP approves Mingo coal-to-gas plant

The Manchin administration today approved an air pollution permit for the Trans-Gas Development coal-to-liquids plant proposed for Mingo County, W.Va.

Officials from the WVDEP’s Division of Air Quality approved the permit and issued a Final Engineering Determination combined with a response to public comments.

As we’ve discussed on Coal Tattoo before, coal-to-liquids technology will generate twice the greenhouse gas emissions of standard gasoline, unless the production plants are equipped with carbon capture technology — which the Trans-Gas facility isn’t.

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Longview Power to study CCS for new W.Va. plant


Speaking of carbon capture and storage,  Longview Power just announced that it has hired a Florida firm to study the “applicability” of CCS technology to its new power plant outside of Morgantown, W.Va.

The Longview press release is here, and its says Longview has hired Siemens Energy for a study that:

… will include process design activities focused on the potential application of Siemens’ second generation amino acid salt post-combustion CO2 capture (POSTCAP) process.

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It’s been a while, but I have blogged before about how the coal industry seems to want to have it both ways on carbon capture and storage (CCS) … Industry folks want to argue that this “clean coal” technology is here, but at the same time seek delayed time frames to implement greenhouse gas cuts and more government money to test and deploy the equipment.

But I’ve become more interested recently in whether some coal industry lobby groups are acting as “honest brokers” in the discussion over CCS and what it’s role could or should be in dealing with global warming.

So a blog item from our friends at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity caught my attention this morning. It’s headlined, “Clean Coal Technology Has Been Around for Decades,” and here’s part of what it said:

There’s been a lot of buzz in recent weeks about clean coal technology – and unfortunately some of the reporting is just not quite accurate.

One of the biggest misconceptions that persists is the idea that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology is “unproven.”

Unproven? Quite the contrary. CCS and other clean coal technologies have been in use for decades.

Oh, really?

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Breaking news: Obama forms task force to speed CCS


IMPORTANT UPDATES … See below for President’s announcement

President Obama is set to meet in about a half-hour with about a dozen governors from key energy-producing states, including West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

My sources tell me to expect the president to announce the formation of a new task force aimed at speeding up the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage technology for coal-fired and other fossil fuel power plants. The task force would be chaired by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two months ago, the Obama administration’s Department of Energy announced it was pumping $334 million in federal stimulus dollars into American Electric Power’s CCS project at the Mountaineer Power Plant in Mason County, W.Va.  And in his budget proposal submitted to Congress earlier this week, Obama proposed $545 million for development of CCS technologies.

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Copenhagen and coal update: CCS ruled out?


Steam and smoke is seen over the coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009. Coal power plants are among the biggest producer of CO2, that is supposed to be responsible for climate change. Delegates from 193 nations at a U.N. climate talks conference in Copenhagen are deadlocked in talks on a deal to curb global warming.(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Thanks to my buddy Osha Gray Davidson and to the Center for Public Integrity‘s climate change team for pointing this out to me … it could be pretty important breaking news from the Copenhagen climate talks, at least for folks interested in coal.

The U.K. Telegraph is reporting:

The clean-coal industry has been shut out of the global emissions trading scheme at the Copenhagen climate change talks, dealing a blow  to the U.K., U.S. and Australia.

The three Western countries and Saudi Arabia had strongly argued that advanced new clean-coal plants, which trap emissions underground, ought to earn credits for being a low-carbon source of energy.

But a United Nations committee decided not to include the industry in its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which rewards companies that invest in green energy.

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AEP to get federal funding for W.Va. CCS project


Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

The Obama administration is scheduled to announce early this afternoon that it is awarding American Electric Power $334 million in federal “stimulus” funding to expand its carbon capture and storage test project at the Mountaineer Plant in Mason County, W.Va.

chu.jpgEnergy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to join Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Gov. Joe Manchin to make the announcement in a conference call with the media.

AEP’s Mountaineer Plant CCS project is among the most important tests of technology aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. But, the current test deals with an emissions stream equivalent to only 20 megawatts of the 1,300-megawatt plant. The federal funding would cover about half of the costs of expanding AEP’s chilled ammonia carbon capture process to cover the equivalent of 230 megawatts of the plant. (Still less than 20 percent of the overall facility).

DOE is awarding the money as part of the latest “Clean Coal Power Initiative” funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.


Here’s a link to the DOE news release, which includes a list of other funded projects and a link to the AEP press release.

I’ve also posted the audio of the conference call announcement:

Gore on CCS: ‘Compelling’ but a long way to go


Former Vice President (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Al Gore’s new book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,” has a full chapter on carbon capture and storage (CCS). And what he has to say will sound familiar to folks who have followed Coal Tattoo’s discussion of the possibilities — and pitfalls — of this technology.


The chapter begins:

The idea of  ‘carbon capture and sequestration’ is compelling. In theory, the world could capture all of the CO2 that is presently emitted into the atmosphere by fossil fuel electricity plants and sequester it safely in repositories located deep underground and beneath the bottom of the ocean. We could then continue to use coal as a primary source of electricity without contributing to the destruction of human civilization in the process.


The reality, however, is that decades after CCS was first proposed, no government or company in the world has built a single commercial-scale demonstration project capturing and sequestering large amounts of CO2 from a power plant.

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Mountaineer Plant CCS: The future of coal?


Gazette photos by Lawrence Pierce

NEW HAVEN, W.Va. — Well, American Electric Power certainly put on a good show today at the kickoff even of its CCS pilot project at the Mountaineer Plant in Mason County, W.Va.

Signs with pretty green arrows directed visitors into the plant. Speakers were projected onto twin giant-screen televisions. Everybody got a parting gift: A nifty thumb-drive pre-loaded with promotional material on the CCS project.

Along the way, though, there was a little bit of interesting news …

First, Sen. Jay Rockefeller called for the federal government to spend $20 to $25 billion on CCS research and development. That’s more than twice the amount included in current versions of the climate bill in both the House and Senate. But, the $10 million in both bills is over 10 years, and Rockefeller declined to give a time frame for his much larger proposal.

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As I mentioned yesterday, it’s coal day at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Folks from the coal industry are testifying about the Senate climate change bill.

Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, said what you would expect:

Without a doubt, this legislation which the committee is considering will devastate our communities, bankrupt our region, cause energy costs to soar across the country, and according to the EPA have almost no impact on global temperatures since China, India and the rest of the developing world will continue to increase their emissions.

But then there was Preston Chiaro, (above) chief executive for energy and minerals at Rio Tinto,  a huge worldwide coal company and the second largest coal producer in the United States, who told lawmakers:

Unmanaged climate change is a threat to our assets, our shareholders, and our employees, and also to civil society and political institutions in many of the countries in which we operate and across the globe.

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