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Can Coal Come Clean?
How to survive the return of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.

Tim Folger, Discover
… IGCC technology also gives engineers unprecedented control over what happens to the different components of coal after they go into the power plant. In normal coal-fired plants, nearly all the pollutants go up the smokestack, where some of them are captured from the exhaust by scrubbers. Here they never even hit the flame. Conventional plants burn pulverized coal in the air, which contains about 78 percent nitrogen. Since the burning takes place at low pressure, the carbon dioxide is diffuse; isolating it is difficult and expensive. Burning gasified coal in pure oxygen at high pressure concentrates the carbon dioxide, making it far easier to capture.

Although Polk does not capture carbon dioxide (it still goes up the exhaust stack, at a rate of 5,000 tons a day), it could easily be retrofitted to do so; new IGCC plants could have the capacity built in. Shorter reports that TECO is planning to replace this plant with a much larger, 600-megawat…
(Dec 2006)
Requires registration. Full article available here.

Union calls for investment in clean coal technologies

Alison Caldwell, ABC (audio & transcript)
The Australian Coal Association has welcomed union calls for greater investment in so-called clean coal technology, and called on electricity companies to do the same.

The Coal Miners’ Union is worried about possible future job losses.

It’s adopted a novel approach, by buying up significant parcels of shares in the industry and making plans to flex shareholder muscle.

The union wants mining companies to invest six times as much in clean coal technology.

Environmental groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF see it as a major development.
(16 Nov 2006)

‘Clean coal’ has detractors

Jennifer McKee, Helena Independent Record (US)
Environmentalists in Montana and Wyoming are divided over efforts in both states to attract cleaner coal plants, with one Montana group vowing to fight efforts here while a prominent Wyoming group supports cleaner coal.

The divide among environmentalists is not black-and-white. Some Montana environmental groups also say they can get behind Montana’s cleaner coal efforts and one national group has met with Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s leading supporter of the technologies, to endorse the governor’s efforts.

Schweitzer called the group opposing his plan — the Montana Environmental Information Center — “marginalized.’’ “If there was still a phone booth in Helena, they could have their meetings there,’’ he said.

But Jeff Barber, a spokesman for the group, said the “cleaner coal’’ technology that eliminates coal’s global-warming causing pollution is not proven. “We just don’t know yet, if this is a long term solution,’’ he said. “I don’t now why we’re not putting as much energy behind wind development as we are to coal development.’’ …
(18 Nov 2006)

Don’t Grandfather Coal Plants

M. Granger Morgan
..Most U.S. utility executives believe it likely that CO2 emission constraints will be imposed in the United States within a decade. No one knows exactly what form they will take, although economists argue for a gradually escalating tax on every ton of CO2 emitted. But in U.S. politics, “tax” is a dirty word, so a more likely strategy is a cap-and-trade system with emission permits.

Those permits will have to be allocated to start the process, and some planners of new plants may hope that their allocations will be proportional to their generators’ emissions when regulation begins. Because permits will become more valuable as their numbers gradually shrink over time, that allocation scheme could hand a future windfall to firms that built substantial new capacity now.

Of course, another possible approach to emission constraints would be to mandate controls only on new plants, while exempting existing plants for some extended period on the grounds that firms would otherwise face large “stranded costs.” Some investors may be counting on this or on the hope that such costs could be passed on to electricity rate-payers…

However, with the changed political complexion of the Congress, federal legislation might be possible, stipulating that when CO2 controls are imposed, no plant built after 2006 will be exempted from coverage (that is, grandfathered), no matter what form future controls on emissions may take. Such a law would not prevent the construction of new coal plants but would strongly encourage builders of conventional coal plants to design them so as to permit amine-based CO2 “scrubbers” to be added later. It would also provide an incentive for those building new plants to adopt advanced “clean coal” technology such as integrated gasification combined-cycle or oxyfuel plants that can capture and sequester CO2 in deep geological formations.

Federal legislation would clearly be best. But if that is impossible, a number of state legislatures might adopt such laws. A state-by-state approach is not optimal but could clearly place future liability on investors, not rate-payers, and thus send a clear message to those planning new plants and help to create political momentum for subsequent action at the federal level.
M. Granger Morgan is head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.
(17 Nov 2006)

Pasadena seeks deal on coal-energy ban

Kenneth Todd Ruiz, Pasedena Star News (US)
PASADENA – Caught between carboniferous rock and a hard place, city power officials will ask Sacramento next week for compromise on a pending coal-energy ban.
The negotiations come as Pasadena decides whether to extend its contracts for imported coal-generated power to 2044 – a deal that will be prohibited from Jan. 1 under state law. ..

Those favoring the extension, including Pasadena Water and Power, have said there are no readily available substitutes for coal-generated energy, and sources such as natural gas will cost more. ..
Two-thirds of the city’s power comes from coal-generated energy imported from the Utah-based Intermountain Power Agency. The company wants to secure ongoing commitments from its California customers to justify building a third coal-burning facility. ..
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which consumes 75 percent of Intermountain’s output, has turned down the deal to extend its contracts.
(17 Nov 2006)
Ontario is also having trouble with promises on coal.

In Second Coal Rush, New Mind-Set in the Mines

Dale Russakoff, Washington Post
COULTERVILLE, Ill. — Billy Vandom was 220 feet underground, but to him, it was the top of the world. He is a coal miner, a species of well-paid American worker that was on the verge of extinction in these parts for more than a decade.

Now global economic forces have realigned, and coal mining is back. And a new generation of miners is living the good life not seen here since coal was king.

…Coal’s rebound here is a direct result of soaring U.S. demand for electricity, half of which currently comes from coal. The Bush administration is promoting coal as a “freedom fuel” — in contrast to foreign oil — and utilities are on a coal binge, with 154 new coal-fired plants on the drawing board. New plants must have scrubbers that remove sulfur before it reaches the atmosphere, so high-sulfur coal is back in the game. Meanwhile, coal states and the industry are investing heavily in technologies to convert coal into liquid fuel to power cars and jet planes.

The Illinois Office of Coal Development forecasts 3,000 new mining jobs statewide in the next three years, and another 2,000 as older miners retire, but that is just a shadow of the roughly 20,000 coal mining jobs that were here before the crash.
(16 Nov 2006)
Long article about labor and the resurgence of coal mining. -BA