Clean Energy Standard Challenges Coal

Ken Silverstein | Mar 03, 2011



If a Clean Energy Standard is enacted, what will that mean for fossil fuels? Interestingly, the emphasis on the development of sustainable fuels is not at the exclusion of coal and natural gas.

President Obama has shifted the focus away from enacting carbon constraints and more toward the formation of cleaner energy sources. He wants 80 percent of all such energy forms to come not just wind and solar but also nuclear, natural gas and “clean coal.”

Not all fuel forms, however, are created equal. And while nuclear and natural gas have the opportunity to thrive in a low-carbon environment, coal will be the most challenged. That’s because of all the pending regulations seeking to control sulfur and nitrogen oxide as well as mercury and carbon. That is making any fixes expensive, not to mention the construction of new coal plants that would capture and bury carbon dioxide.

“In the near term, the electric industry is focused on coal retirements, not carbon restrictions,” says Mark Griffith, managing director of Black & Veatch Corp., at a conference sponsored by Wartsila in Vail, Colo. “If greenhouse gas regulations are eventually enacted, there will be an increased reliance on natural gas, nuclear and renewables.”

If greenhouse gas regulations are later approved, Griffith would expect a “real flip” in the nation’s energy mix: Coal, which now provides about 45 percent of the nation’s fuel to make electricity, would drop to 21 percent by 2035. Natural gas would rise from about 20 percent today to 40 percent during that time while renewables would go from 2 percent now to 11 percent.

Environmental issues dominate the decision making process. Next year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that it will implement its Clean Air Transport Rule. After that, it is expected to enforce the Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards that relate to mercury. On the horizon: those involving disposal of coal ash and greenhouse gas emissions.

Altogether, Black & Veatch anticipates 52,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity to be retired in the short run and in response to those regulations. About 300,000 megawatts of coal-burning generation now exist.

Green Goals

To be sure, coal will be vital to the nation's economy. And the thinking in some corners is that coal will not sit idle while other fuels vie for its share of the pie. The industry, in fact, is working feverishly with the utility sector to develop new technologies that it says will give it new life while others are also cautioning that natural gas prices cannot be expected to stay so low.

That said, coal has a tough road ahead. Reports are suggesting that will it cost as much as $70 billion to comply with all of the rules. Utilities are finding that for their older, smaller coal units, it is easier and cheaper to retire them. Natural gas will be one of the beneficiaries.

“Natural gas is 50 percent cleaner than an existing coal plant,” says Saya Kitasei, sustainable energy fellow at Worldwatch Institute, at the Wartsila conference. “We think natural gas has a future in a low-carbon economy. We have taken a lot of flack from our comrades in the environmental space for this position.”

The green movement has been concerned about the use of unknown chemicals to extract shale-gas deposits and the effect those fluids are having on drinking water. If this issue can be resolved, natural gas would have key roles in electricity production: First, as peak generation to meet high energy demand and second, as backup power for renewables. Others think it could become a base-load fuel.

Indeed, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank say that if natural gas prices stay around $4-$6 per million Btu, then utilities would be hard pressed to avoid this option. Prices have remained low for two years now and are projected to rise only nominally. That's all because of the gold rush to find shale gas and the modern drilling techniques that allow developers to access those deposits.

Ultimately, though, the goal of the Obama administration and its backers in the environmental community is to advance wind and solar, and other renewables. Until then, they will need subsidies -- monies that the Obama administration has proposed to come out of the pockets of the mature oil and gas industries.

That kind of leadership gives the developers of everything from solar panels to wind turbines to energy storage devices the faith they need to innovate, says Erik Ela, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Vendors have the ingenuity, he says, but tenuous markets often make such progress impractical.

The landscape is changing. The pressure is on to reduce emissions and to develop cleaner and greener energy. With a push from the president, the changes will occur more rapidly and result not only in more wind and solar power but also more advanced coal and natural gas generation.

EnergyBiz Insider has been named Honorable Mention for Best Online Column by Media Industry News, MIN.

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Fossil Fuel

Fuel industry is totally associated with automotive industry. Improvement or innovative application in the fuel industry will definitely help the Auto maker to think about the alternatives those comes in positive and also better for our environment. The fossil fuel or the bio fuels will be use more in coming future to maintain the balance. Natural gas and bio-fuel will be the better and Eco-friendly option to use as vehicle fuel. It is definitely better than that of Diesel. Diesel is always the main reason of environmental pollution. Audi Repair Ann Arbor



There is a reason that so many older coal plants will be retired ... they are dirtier and less efficient than newer generation. If utilities have to invest in cleaner plants (coal, natural gas, wind or solar) that will be better for everyone. It will create jobs and be cleaner. What is wrong with that? It takes money to get there. If your old car is ready for the dumpster, you trade it in and buy a newer one that is technically more advanced. Get rid of those old junksters and invest in cleaner technology.

clean energy standard challenges coal

I dare any one of the green energy proponents to produce a single windmill or solar collector that does not require the use of electricity from coal, oil, or nujclear. When you can do so, then you will have renewable energy. Until then the so called "clean energy standards" should be called the "destroy america's economy" standards.

Clean Coal

Dear Sirs,

For two years I gave all my heart, my time, and most of my savings to promote "Clean Coal; Technology.  Any more and I would have been risking the lose of  my most precious asset, my wife!

Here is how we clean-up coal combustion without any need for expensive filtration or sequestration devices.  A carbon free, pollution free fuel know as Elemental Fuel Technology a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, (less than 1% of the power produced from of heavy metals) it is easily and safely sprayed on coal through the plants dust control system moments before combustion.  The light element reaction produces 25-35% of Btu's required to optimize thermal output.  The EFT reactions is extremely clean producing helium as our only byproduct.  The reaction displaces, disallows or rips the oxygen molicule from the NOx, SOx, CO2, and CO gases resulting in total emmisions reduction north of 50%. A substancial increase in oxygen and a small amout of helium is present in the emissions as evidence for the next paradigm in Advanced Combustion / "Clean Coal" Technology.

A Patisan American,

Steve J. Davey

Green Coal Plants, Inc.

Subsidies and Taxpayers

"Ultimately, though, the goal of the Obama administration and its backers in the environmental community is to advance wind and solar, and other renewables. Until then, they will need subsidies -- monies that the Obama administration has proposed to come out of the pockets of the mature oil and gas industries."

President Obama and his Administration and the Congress understand, though they prefer to ignore, that the government does not have a single dollar it does not collect from taxpayers, now or in the future (when it spends money now that it does not have now). While the President might cast his intent as picking the "pockets of the mature oil and gas industries", he knows full well that those industries will raise their prices to cover those additional tax obligations, thus causing the subsidies to be funded by their customers. If the prices of oil and gas and coal are increased sufficiently, renewables become "competitive" by default. If this happens without the economy "tanking", the President wins. However, if the economy "tanks", we all lose. ("Heads, I win; tails, you lose.") Sweeeeet!

Agree With the Taxpayers & Subsidies Comment

I agree with the comment that the President and Congress seem to be ignoring the fact that they have no money that does not come from the taxpayers.  I think they also seem to forget that oil exploration is a financially risky business which is the reason, I if remember correctly, that the oil companies got the tax breaks--to encourage exploration in the US and our territorial waters rather than overseas.

The President looks at the oil and gas industries and sees "fat cats".  He had better start seeing "jobs".  In fact when he looks at all of industry in the US, he needs to see jobs.  He also needs to see that added costs in the form of higher taxes on business simply means those businesses go elsewhere.

We cannot implement in a vacuum policies that raise the cost of doing business in the United States--whether it be in the form of taxes or in the form of higher energy costs.  China is whipping our butts in the world market place.  They have no compunctions about technology piracy nor manipulating their currency to get ahead.  Yet we are on the verge of effectively kowtowing to them again with policies aimed at CO2 emissions which will raise the price of electricity from coal (and natural gas in the future) by 80% or more.  What good does it do the world for us to anti-GHG ourselves out of business simply to enable China to continue replacing the coal-fired plants we take off line with their own coal-fired plants, many of which have no emission controls at all?

I also have to ask, what good does it do for the Federal Government to use tax money to subsidize uneconomical forms of power on a grand scale?  I would go along with financing research that results in technological development that entrepenuers can then make a new business out of with non-government funding.  In fact, that is what happened with NASA and Defense research--a lot of advanced ideas were developed and someone looked at these ideas and decided there was a potential new business to be built around that.  But to finance commercial sized facilities with taxpayer funds because they are not competitive is just plain stupid.  They are taking money from the pockets of people who would use the money to buy things they need or want, thereby stimulating the economy, to throw it away on economically unjustifiable facilities.  Guess what, Mr. President, the more money you take from "wealthy" taxpayers, the less likely they are to hire people.  The more you raise the cost of business In the US while we are in a tight market the less likely the business will expand in the US.