Coal is likely to remain a large part of world energy future. Midwestern coal state Senators of both parties have ensured in the Climate Change Energy Bill that coal will remain 50% of the U.S. power supply well into the future, with the addition of carbon sequestration. This notably displaces natural gas as a near term quick Greenhouse Gas reducing fuel source. Members of natural gas lobbying groups are marshalling resources to ensure natural gas will grow as a fuel in the power system, but coal is a clear winner.
The only problem is carbon injection into the ground, or sequestration, is largely unproven. A Portsmouth, NH company, PowerSpan, has a project running in Ohio, but I know of no others. The Energy Bill does a great deal to aid carbon injection research, development and deployment, citing China as a main market to export the technology. So, the horse trading continues in Washington, DC, watering the Waxman Markey House Bill down more and more in the Senate suiting it to fit existing fuel source constituencies around the country, an unfortunate but necessary compromise to get a Climate Change program running and new Energy funding, in spite of dimming prospects in DC that a carbon trade bill will pass.
There is a newer Carbon capture pilot program in West Virginia testing technology. In New Haven, West Virginia a crucial experiment is underway that may determine the fate of the coal industry worldwide. The technology tested is carbon sequestration or carbon capture. The technology takes carbon dioxide emissions from the coal plant, mixes it with a chilled ammonia compound, and buries it thousands of feet below in sandstone formations in a dolomite formation.
There are numerous problems with the untested and unproven technology. The carbon capture and mixing factory consumes between 15% and 30% of the Mountaineer coal plant’s energy output, making solar and nuclear more cost effective. The cost of the carbon capture factory is that half that of the total cost to build Mountaineer. The project cost over $100 million with American Electric Power, the plant’s owner, paying $73 million. During the pilot only 1.5% of the plant’s carbon is buried. If it proves to be cost effective the utility could bury 90% of the plants carbon.
The jury is still out. Environmentalists say carbon injection will cause ground water pollution and will leak. Much is riding on the outcome of the Mountaineer pilot project, both for supporters and detractors of clean coal technology.
The oil and coal industry are resorting to the same tactics as the health care lobby. Fox News led Republicans to use at the Town Hall Meetings to obfuscate, obstruct and delay real debate on Energy and Climate Change.
So as much as things change, the more they remain the same in our nations Capitol.