Coal Tattoo

The great race: Coal vs. the Climate


Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

In case any Coal Tattoo readers missed it, we had a major piece in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail called “Coal vs. Climate: Will greenhouse controls come before it’s too late.

The story takes a look at American Electric Power’s CCS test over at the Mountaineer Plant in Mason County, and tries to put it in perspective of the huge challenge facing the coal industry in trying to deal with climate change. The summary:

But coal is in a race with the climate.

The planet is heating up faster than scientists thought it would just a few years ago. Experts say greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced soon, before it’s too late.

At the same time, the coal industry says it needs more time to perfect and deploy technology to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is expensive. It sucks up a lot of a power plant’s energy and takes up tremendous space.

Power companies haven’t figured out exactly how to do CCS on the monumental scale needed. And experts aren’t sure if pumping such huge amounts of compressed CO2 underground is really safe.

Nobody knows if coal or climate is going to win this important race, but the world is watching, and even some of the strongest advocates of CCS have started to make it clear that the path ahead for coal is far from easy.

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CONSOL exec on climate change, carbon capture

Pittsburgh-based CONSOL Energy Inc. weighed in this week on the continuing congressional debate over climate change legislation and coal’s role in the nation’s energy future.

Steven Winberg, CONSOL’s vice president for Research and Development, argued in favor of slower timelines for carbon dioxide emission reductions and more efforts to develop and deploy carbon capture and sequestration technology:

Coal is our most abundant energy resource and we need sustained, predictable investment in CCS coupled with the time to develop, demonstrate and commercialize it effectively
. However, there is a key overarching issue. If the legislation forces significant reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions before these new technologies are commercially deployable, we will negatively impact a significant part of the existing fleet of coal-fired power plants.

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Waiting on a climate bill: What’s in this one for coal?


Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., are set to announce the official language of their version of a climate change bill tomorrow, and the media reports are flying around about what will be in it.

So far, the consensus is that they’ll propose a steeper cut in greenhouse gas emissions than  required by the American Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the House earlier this year.

Darren  Samuelsohn and Ben Geman of Greenwire report via The New York Times:

… The 684-page Senate draft bill (pdf) diverges from the House measure in its push for a 2020 emissions target of 20 percent, compared with the House’s bill’s 17 percent limit.

Both the House-passed bill, H.R. 2454 (pdf), and the preliminary Boxer-Kerry proposal contain the same longer-term emissions limits of 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and an 83 percent cut for 2050.

Importantly for folks in the coalfields, Greenwire adds:

Like the House bill, the Boxer-Kerry draft would provide emissions allowances to fund commercial deployment of carbon capture and sequestration, although it does not provide specifics. It also establishes performance standards for emissions of greenhouse gases from new coal-fired power plants.

It will be interesting to see exactly what’s in this bill related to coal and CCS, and to hear reactions from coal-state lawmakers like Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va.

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Obama: Billions being spent to ‘clean up’ coal


President Obama this morning is promising U.S. action on climate change, including spending billions of dollars to clean up greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

The headlines of the news coverage of the president’s speech to the United Nations are focusing on his call for cooperation among the nations for dealing with this huge challenge and on his frank talk about the size of the threat to humanity that climate changes poses.

A couple of quotes in that regard (you can read the whole speech here):

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.

The security and stability of each nation and all peoples — our prosperity, our health, our safety — are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

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Power company president defends climate change bill


Wow … A business leader in Appalachia stepping up to defend — no, praise —  the climate change bill that has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the U.S. Senate.


That’s what happened in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, with the op-ed commentary by Michael G. Morris, president of American Electric Power. If you missed it, here’s the entire piece:

The arguments for and against climate action haven’t abated with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 by the U.S. House of Representatives. Both sides are sharpening their messages in preparation for Senate action on the issue.

The public hears the rhetoric and must weigh the choices. Cleaner energy? That’s good. Higher energy costs? That’s bad.

But a key fact that is critical for everyone to understand has been lost in the debate. One way or another, there will be climate action.

If climate change legislation dies in Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intends to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that EPA has that authority if the agency concludes that CO2 qualifies as an endangerment issue. EPA has provided notice that it is pursuing the development of its endangerment finding.

Climate action by EPA isn’t equivalent to climate action by Congress and, in our view, is in no one’s best interests.

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Byrd pushing for more carbon capture in climate bill


This just in from Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s office:

Washington, DC – As the debate on new energy and climate change legislation begins in the U.S. Senate, Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is advocating for massive investments in clean coal technologies.

          He today joined several of his Senate colleagues in sending letters to the Chairs of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Finance Committees suggesting the need for stronger carbon capture and storage language that would help to ensure that coal is burned in a cleaner and more efficient manner.  Signing the letters to the two Chairs in addition to Byrd were Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Max Baucus (D-MT), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Mark Warner (D-VA).

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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:

milloy.jpgThe 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  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.

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AEP seeks federal funds to expand W.Va. CCS project


With a carbon capture test at its Mountainer Power Plant in New Haven, W.Va., just weeks away from going operational, American Electric Power announced this afternoon that it plans to seek federal funding to expand the project.

The initiative would increase the carbon capture and storage (CCS) ability of the plant from the current 20-megawatt project to 230 megawatts. That’s still less than 20 percent of the 1,300-megawatt plant — and the effort would not be operational until at least 2015.

AEP hopes to win $334 million from the U.S. Department of Energy‘s latest round of “Clean Coal” money, or enough to fund half of the costs of installing its favored chilled ammonia carbon capture process.

That’s right — $334 million is half the cost of a project to capture less than 20 percent of the plant’s total greenhouse emissions.

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Appalachian Power’s Mountaineer Power Plant, with its new carbon sequestration plant, in Mason County. Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce.

My buddy Paul Nyden tagged along yesterday when some West Virginia lawmakers toured the “carbon capture and storage” project over at American Electric Power subsidiary Appalachian Power’s Mountaineer Power Plant in New Haven, W.Va.

From his story, it sounds like leading lawmakers think the success of CCS projects like this — and the ability to deploy them widely on coal-fired power plants — is a done deal.

For example, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, said:

There is talk in every place in West Virginia and around the world about pollution control. This shows West Virginia is a leader in cleaning up the atmosphere from carbon dioxide.

The rose-colored glasses view is bipartisan, as we see from the comments of Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer:

I am very impressed with the opportunity to visit a plant like this. What a wonderful opportunity this is. When you passed a plant like this 25 or 30 years ago, you saw it spewing and gases and smoke…. This is a wonderful day for West Virginia.

Of course, Coal Tattoo readers know better. They understand that CCS is a very long way from being deployed on the scale needed to allow coal to be a part of a carbon-constrained energy future, and that — most importantly — we just don’t know for sure if this technology is going to work. Read previous posts on this topic here. And remember that some analysts are raising questions about whether we’ll still have much economically mineable coal left by the time CCS is up and running on a large scale.

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We’ve talked before about peak coal (see previous posts here, here and here), and now I can’t wait to read Richard Heinberg’s new book, Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis.

Fortunately, David Roberts over at Grist has already done so, and gives us a preview report … and the picture painted in the book is pretty scary.

In short:

There isn’t nearly as much coal left as most people think. “Clean coal” will run down limited reserves even faster. If humanity doesn’t begin massive, sustained investment in renewable power sources immediately, civilization could be at risk before the end of the century. And that’s without considering the impacts of climate change.

And more to the point for our recent discussions of carbon capture and storage proposals:

The second fateful illusion: that carbon capture and sequestration can enable the continued expansion of coal use.

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Some straight talk on CCS from AEP

Coal industry folks and their political supporters sometimes make “clean coal” (whatever that is) and the capture of coal’s greenhouse gas emissions sound pretty easy. Take West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, for instance, who in announcing American Electric Power’s plans for a coal gasification plant in Mason County (one without carbon capture and storage technology, yet) said:

As one of the first commercial scale coal gasification projects, this proposed plant will allow us to lead the nation in the development of clean coal technology for power generation. Plus, coal gasification technology offers future opportunities to produce clean liquid fuels and chemical feedstock for other industries.

IGCC technology allows us to continue using our state’s coal resources in an environmentally responsible way. With IGCC, we’ll have a cleaner environment. An IGCC power plant efficiently reduces and removes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and mercury from plant emissions. IGCC plants offer opportunity for more efficient, less costly carbon capture for disposal in deep geologic formations.

Well, that plant is kind of on the back burner, at least for now — one sign of how all of this stuff isn’t as easy as the politicians and industry PR agents make it sound.  But one thing AEP has begun to do more of is provide some straight talk about the huge hurdles ahead if the coal industry is going to remain viable in a carbon-constrained world.

Take the testimony yesterday to a House committee by Gary O. Spitznogle, AEP’s manager of IGCC and CCS Engineering. Among other things, Spitznolge declared:

The Congress and indeed all Americans must come to recognize the gigantic undertaking and significant sacrifices that this enterprise is likely to require. It is unrealistic to assume, and wrong to argue, that the market will magically respond simply by the imposition of stringent CO2 controls on our economy.

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Yesterday, I wrote a story for the Gazette print edition about a new Harvard study that purports to detail the Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture from coal-fired power plants.

In a nutshell, the study puts the costs of capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants much higher than previous studies. Harvard researchers projected first-generation plants with CCS might double the cost of electricity. The costs might drop as the technology matures, but could still increase power production rates by as much as 50 percent.

This study also got some attention from The Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog, which  called it a “reality check for clean coal.”

That’s probably right. But what kind of reality check? As I thought about this, it became clear that, in the national discussion over the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the coal industry is trying to have it both ways. Coal lobbyists want to argue that “clean coal” is here, but then also demand that the climate legislation working its way through Congress be further watered down, to give them more time to perfect and deploy carbon capture and storage technology.

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More evidence today about the troubles the coal industry faces — and about a decline that seems inevitable if a way isn’t found to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions on a widespread scale.

The headline on Anne C. Mulkern’s piece for Greenwire (via The NY Times) says it all: “Coal industry sees life or death in Senate climate debate.”

Coal Tattoo readers know that the United Mine Workers union (an organization that is unfortunately ignored by much of the media covering the climate debate  — leaving only coal operators and their lobbyists and the pro-coal voices) has said this about the House-passed version of the global warming legislation:

As it stands now, the amount of money dedicated to coal in this bill is remarkable, and the future of coal will be intact.

But the Greenwire story puts a finer point on it, explaining that the idea of an intact coal industry relies on scientists perfecting and the industry deploying CCS technology on a grand scale. The article quotes Kenneth Green, resident scholar at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, saying:

Unless they come up with a breakthrough technology to capture carbon and store it, coal is dying.”

Green adds:

If this [bill] does what they want it to do, I would say coal is on its way out.

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Boucher: Climate bill is good for coal


This is a responsible measure. It is carefully balanced; it reduces greenhouse gases by 83 percent by the year 2050 as compared to 2005 levels; it keeps electricity rates affordable; it enables coal usage to grow as the demand for electricity increases nationwide; and it opens the door to a more secure energy future and the creation of millions of new jobs, innovating, deploying and exporting to the world the new, low-carbon-dioxide-emitting technologies that will power our energy future.

— Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., on the climate bill

West Virginia’s three House members all cited  concerns about negative impacts on the coal industry when they voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a move that the New York Times’ Paul Krugman likened to “treason against the planet.”

Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., are also dissing the bill, again citing concerns about coal.

Oddly, as I pointed out earlier, the Friends of Coal industry front group is not attacking the legislation’s impacts on coal — instead going for a general criticism of potential increases in energy costs to consumers.  And as I’ve also pointed out, the United Mine Workers union concluded the bill ensured that “the future of coal will be intact (but still withheld its endorsement, seeking more concessions for coal companies and coal-fired utilities).

One pro-coal voice that has been outspoken in support of the bill is Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher. A Democrat from his state’s southwestern coalfields, Boucher was a strong force in pushing the legislation’s main sponsors, Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, to add language that slows down emissions reductions and funnels billions of dollars to help the coal industry try to figure out how to control is carbon dioxide output.

During Friday’s House floor debate, Boucher explained why he thinks the bill is good for the coal industry:

 Approximately 80 percent of the electricity in the district that I represent is coal-generated. Coal production is one of our region’s major industries, and it is a major employer of our constituents. Not surprisingly, my focus in the shaping of the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee was to keep electricity rates affordable and to enable utilities to continue using coal, which accounts for fully 51 percent of America’s electricity generation. Both of these goals have been achieved in the bill that is before us today.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects that by 2020, the usage of coal in our economy will grow as compared to today’s usage. Now, that may seem somewhat counterintuitive in a bill that regulates greenhouse gas emissions, so let me repeat that: the EPA projects that by 2020, coal usage in America, under the terms of this bill, will actually grow.

As transportation electrifies and the demand for electricity increases, coal, our most abundant fuel, will still be the fuel of choice to meet that rising demand. The claims of opponents that the CO2 controls under the bill will force utilities to surrender coal use, causing an overreliance on natural gas with attendant broad economic harm to the Nation are also simply wrong.

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Fixing existing coal-fired power plants is a key for the coal industry if it wants to remain part of the world’s energy mix in a carbon-constrained future, according to the latest report published by the folks at MIT’s Energy Initiative.

The new report suggests:

…An intermediate step that could get construction moving again, allowing the nation to fend off growing electricity shortages using our most-abundant, least-expensive fuel while also reducing emissions.

Instead of capturing all of its CO2 emissions, plants could capture a significant fraction of those emissions with less costly changes in plant design and operation.

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Solving climate change?

The Solve Climate blog has this interesting bit of news today, headline, “Climate bill earmarks $500 million for clean coal ‘admin. expenses.”

According to the story:

boucher.jpgRep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has been trying for the past year to get Congress to set up an independent corporation dedicated to clean coal development. He introduced the Carbon Capture and Storage Early Deployment Act (HR 6258), which provoked some hearings in 2008, but it went nowhere and died. So this spring he reintroduced the bill, virtually unchanged (HR 1689).

What happened next is further proof of the enormous leverage Boucher wields as a coal state Democrat in shaping national climate legislation.

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DOE’s Chu announces CCS projects


Secretary Chu Announces $2.4 billion in Funding for

Carbon Capture and Storage Projects

Funds to Advance Research, Development and Deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies and Infrastructure


Washington, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu today announced at the National Coal Council that $2.4 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to expand and accelerate the commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The funding is part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to develop technologies to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas and contributor to global climate change, into the atmosphere while creating new jobs.


“To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we must accelerate our efforts to capture and store carbon in a safe and cost-effective way.  This funding will both create jobs now and help position the United States to lead the world in CCS technologies, which will be in increasing demand in the years ahead,” said Secretary Steven Chu


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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.

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This week: Coal, climate and congressional hearings


While I was busy covering the congressional hearing on the Bayer chemical plant explosion here in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley  (See my story here and visit the Gazette’s Sustained Outrage blog for more), the rest of you might have been tuned into the start of a marathon set of hearings into the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the latest major proposal for dealing with global warming.

Yesterday’s session featured opening statements, and  today will include Obama administration officials, some major businesses that support action on climate change, and testimony from a variety of witnesses about the green job and economic benefits of the legislation.

The whole list of witnesses for the hearings is available here.

Coal Tattoo readers might be especially interested in this panel tomorrow, which will include testimony on Carbon Capture and Storage:

  • Dr. Howard Gruenspect, Acting Deputy Administrator, U. S. Energy Information Agency
  • Dian Greunich, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission
  • Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, Google, Inc.
  • Jim Robo, President and Chief Operating Officer, FPL Group
  • David Hawkins, Director of Climate Programs, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Dr. Gregory Kunkel, Vice President for Environment Affairs, Tenaska, Inc.
  • Jonathan Briggs, Regional Director of the Americas, Hydrogen Energy International
  • Eugene Trisko (on behalf of the United Mine Workers of America)

We’ve had a good discussion over the last few days in response to my post, Calling out the GOP on cap and trade, and it’s continued over into today’s post, Coal plant emissions: The calm before the storm.

One commenter reminded me that I had intended to blog about last week’s announcement by Dow Chemical Co. that it plans to install a carbon dioxide emissions capture “pilot plant” at its South Charleston chemical plant.

This story got a ton of attention: The Charleston Daily Mail, Greenwire via The New York Times, The Associated Press via, Metro News, Chemical and Engineering News, and Fox Business.

According to the announcement by Dow and its partner, Alstom, this pilot plant will capture about 1,800 tons per year of CO2 from flue gas using an “advanced amine technology.”

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., were among the politicians to jump out there to praise this project. And that’s fine, as far as the project — and the media coverage of it — went. But there’s a few things that, for the most part, got left out.

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