Coal-Emission Cleanup a Challenge
Oct 8, 2007 - McClatchy Newspapers
Coal-powered utilities, under intense pressure
to cut carbon emissions, say the country needs the
electricity that coal generates and they need time
to enact controls on discharges.
Groups like the Sierra Club, however, want an immediate
end to coal's use -- in the United States and around
the world -- to slow global warming.
Rather than adding power plants, utilities should
start retiring old ones and focus on drawing energy
from the sun, wind and other renewable sources,
said Sierra Club organizer Mark Kresowik of Waterloo,
Iowa, whose job is to thwart proposed plants in
Waterloo and Marshalltown.
"We're adding a whole new generation of global
warming plants on top of some extremely dirty facilities,"
Kresowik said. "It's really getting worse and worse."
The Sierra Club isn't coal's only opponent.
"From cradle to grave, coal is dirty," said Rebecca
Tarbotton, global finance campaign director for
Rainforest Action Network, in announcing last week
a campaign against Bank of America and Citibank
for financing coal-fired power plants.
Leslie Lowe, energy and environment director of
the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility,
said building a coal-fired plant is, "under any
faith-based view of the world, blasphemy and a sin.
It is to profit from the destruction of the natural
world . . . and from the poisoning of other human
life on this planet."
TXU Corp. of Dallas drew attention earlier this
year when it said it would drop eight of its 11
planned coal-fired plants in Texas, a decision prompted
by an investment group that is buying the utility
for $45 billion. The eight plants would have sent
56 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific
Group cited their "stronger environmental policies
and new investment in alternative energy," pledging
to support a mandatory cap-and-trade program for
"Cap-and-trade" programs, one of dozens of carbon-control
proposals before Congress, would set limits on emissions
by a group of power plants. Plants with low emissions
could sell their right to emit carbon dioxide to
plants with high emissions.
Supporters say cap-and-trade programs would reduce
emissions but are flexible and affordable. But critics
argue such programs lack the proven technology to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions while continuing
to supply electricity.
Instead, utilities point to such efforts as "FutureGen,"
a model zero-emissions power plant to be developed
in Texas or Illinois.
The plant, a public-private partnership scheduled
to begin operating in 2012, would capture its emissions
and ship carbon dioxide via pipeline to be injected
into underground caverns or porous rock formations
for permanent storage. However, it will take another
15 years to develop a commercially viable capture-and-storage
system, said John Litynski, a program officer with
the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology
Laboratory in Morgantown, W.Va.
And full "market penetration" -- meaning a significant
number of U.S. power plants using a carbon capture-and-storage
system -- may not happen until 2045 or later, Litynski
said. Such widespread use would require thousands
of miles of pipelines plus injection stations and
other infrastructure, at a cost of billions of dollars.
U.S. power plants emit between 2 billion and 3
billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, a figure
that continues to grow. To make a dent, Litynski
said, the industry would have to capture and store
at least 1 billion tons.
That amount is twice as much as the nation's existing
natural gas pipeline system carries.
"I don't think it's something that's impossible,"
he said. "It's a matter of changing how we look
at carbon. You're basically going to have to transform
the coal industry."
How fast it happens, he said, "depends on how much
of a push there is by legislation or other things
that would spur the need for it," as well as available
"Coal still will pay a major role," Litynski said.
"It's just too big a piece of the pie to replace
at this point."
In the meantime, the power industry is making a
significant drive to reduce carbon emissions, conserve
energy and use as much renewable energy as possible,
said William J. Fehrman, president of MidAmerican
MidAmerican, the Iowa power division of MidAmerican
Energy Holdings Co., a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary,
generates about 58 percent of its electricity from
coal, 24 percent from natural gas, 10 percent from
nuclear energy and 9 percent from wind.
By the end of 2008 MidAmerican will have invested
$1.8 billion in wind energy since 2004, making about
18 percent of MidAmerican's electric-generating
capacity renewable. (The actual renewable-energy
output is smaller because wind turbines generate
electricity only about a third of the time.)
MidAmerican opened a new coal-powered generator
at its Council Bluffs facility this summer, using
technology that burns about 15 percent less coal
per unit of electricity than earlier plants. By
2009 the company will complete $400 million in upgrades
to reduce emissions at its other plants, but the
equipment won't alter the plants' carbon dioxide
Fehrman said MidAmerican's reliance on coal has
kept its Iowa electricity rates unchanged since
1995, and no increase is due until at least 2014.
Coal also is a factor in making Nebraska's electricity
rates the sixth-lowest in the country, said John
McClure, vice president and general counsel for
the Nebraska Public Power District. That's an advantage
in attracting electricity-hungry employers.
McClure said that even modest restrictions by Congress
could more than double the cost of electricity,
raising consumers' bills and making it more difficult
for businesses to compete internationally.
Strict limits such as those in California run
the risk of causing electricity shortages and economic
disruption, he said. "That is a major concern of
the electricity industry."
David Sokol, chairman and chief executive of MidAmerican
Energy, has called for a national 25-year effort
to resolve the future of energy, similar to the
commitment to space exploration that resulted in
the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington
Post, Sokol suggested using public and private dollars
to develop clean coal, use more renewable energy,
expand nuclear power and conserve energy.
Sokol wrote: "That's an ambitious but achievable
goal that all Americans should be able to support."
To see more of the Omaha World-Herald, or to subscribe
to the newspaper, go to http://www.omaha.com.
Copyright (c) 2007, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.