B12 Solipsism

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Clean Coal is not cheap

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Failure of leadership means money for desert wars, not for reducing carbon emissions.

For years, scientists have had a straightforward idea for taming global warming. They want to take the carbon dioxide that spews from coal-burning power plants and pump it back into the ground.

President Bush is for it, and indeed has spent years talking up the virtues of “clean coal.” All three candidates to succeed him favor the approach. So do many other members of Congress. Coal companies are for it. Many environmentalists favor it. Utility executives are practically begging for the technology.

But it has become clear in recent months that the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly.

In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.

Perhaps worse, in the last few months, utility projects in Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington State that would have made it easier to capture carbon dioxide have all been canceled or thrown into regulatory limbo.

Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.

“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

[From The Energy Challenge – Mounting Costs Slow the Push for Clean Coal – Series – NYTimes.com]

Lets hope Obama’s friendship with energy companies like Exelon won’t impede research funds into cleaner coal when he wins in 2009.

But only a handful of small projects survive, and the recent cancellations mean that most of this work has come to a halt, raising doubts that the technique can be ready any time in the next few decades. And without it, “we’re not going to have much of a chance for stabilizing the climate,” said John Thompson, who oversees work on the issue for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group.

The fear is that utilities, lacking proven chemical techniques for capturing carbon dioxide and proven methods for storing it underground by the billions of tons per year, will build the next generation of coal plants using existing technology. That would ensure that vast amounts of global warming gases would be pumped into the atmosphere for decades.

The highest-profile failure involved a project known as FutureGen, which President Bush himself announced in 2003: a utility consortium, with subsidies from the government, was going to build a plant in Mattoon, Ill., testing the most advanced techniques for converting coal to a gas, capturing pollutants, and burning the gas for power.

Seems like besides a failure of political leadership, energy companies are milking taxpayer funds for their own purposes.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 29th, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,