NewEnergyNews: G8 WANTS ‘CLEAN’ COAL TRIALS BUT THERE IS A CATCH

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, July 24:

  • TTTA Thursday-CLIMATE FACTS VERSUS CLIMATE CULTURE
  • TTTA Thursday-MONEY IN WIND UP FOR QUARTER, DOWN FROM 2013
  • TTTA Thursday-MIDWEST BIOFUELS CAN BE NEW ENERGY – UCS STUDY
  • TTTA Thursday-TESLA CHAMPIONS THE PLUG AND THE CAR
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: EUROPE’S OFFSHORE WIND PROGRESS THIS YEAR
  • QUICK NEWS, July 23: NEW ENERGY WAS 55% OF 1H 2014 U.S. NEW BUILD; EV SALES LEAP; OCEAN ENERGY’S FINANCES UNDER SCRUTINY
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: WHY THE OIL & GAS INDUSTRY BACKS AN ALL-OF-THE-ABOVE ENERGY POLICY
  • QUICK NEWS, July 22: U.S. DOE FORESEES NEW ENERGY; THE BEST CITIES FOR NEW ENERGY; ENERGY STORAGE TO BE $50BIL MRKT
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: THE COST OF ADDING SOLAR TO A UTILITY’S OPERATIONS
  • QUICK NEWS, 7-21: U.S. WIND, SOLAR TO GROW THROUGH 2020; NEW GEOTHERMAL RISING; CHINESE HAVE RIGHTS IN OREGON WIND BUY
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • Weekend Video: Colbert Gets Into Coal Rolling
  • Weekend Video: How Solar Power Plants Store And Use Solar Energy
  • Weekend Video: A Story About People And Wind Energy
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-THE CLIMATE CHANGED WORLD IS NOW 5 TIMES MORE DANGEROUS
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-THE MONEY IN SOLAR, Q2 2014
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU STILL GROWING OCEAN WIND
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-$109MIL FROM GERMAN BANK BACKS KENYA GEOTHERMAL
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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  • Monday, June 16, 2008

    G8 WANTS ‘CLEAN’ COAL TRIALS BUT THERE IS A CATCH

    Here is a great new angle on a story to which the mainstream press has paid way too little attention. “Clean” coal – something the utilities keep advertising on TV and politicians keep promising as the solution to global climate change – still does not really exist at scale except in theory. It is something NewEnergyNews has reported on frequently. (See “CLEAN” COAL NOT READY – SWEDISH STUDY)

    The new angle: Nobody wants to be the first on the block. There are several competing technologies, all expensive, none proven, and there are no laws (like caps on emissions or a trading system that rewards efficiencies) to incentivize implementation. It’s a lot cheaper and easier for all involved to keep talking about how “clean” coal will solve the global climate crisis and keep burning coal while Big Coal reassuringly says, “Don’t worry, be happy!”

    More than a quarter of U.S. emissions come from burning coal. When the move to plug-in vehicles comes that measure will jump year by year. It is much worse in emerging economies.

    Catch-22: Utility regulator Virginia State Corporation Commission (VSCC) turned down an American Electric Power/Appalachian Power application for a large scale CCS-capable plant project promising to capture 90% of generated emissions and sequester them in a nearby well. VSCC said it was "neither reasonable nor prudent" because the technology is twice as expensive and unproven. (The Catch: How can a technology be proved if applications for pilot projects are denied?)

    “Clean” coal is more precisely named carbon capture and sequestration (or storage) (CCS). The idea is simple. Coal is burned to generate heat to boil water to create steam to drive turbines to make electricity. CO2 gases are a byproduct of burning coal. The plan: Capture the CO2. Store the captured gases in (theoretically) airtight pockets deep underground.

    The process has been and continues to be done on a small scale, though imprecisely. In oil-producing regions, coal plant gases have been trapped and injected into flagging oil wells to drive more oil out. This is called Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).

    EOR is costly, but the extra oil production justifies the expense. There is no certainty of the quality or quantity of the emissions captured, which doesn't matter to the oil producers as long as the gases drive oil out of their wells. The gases appear to remain safely in the wells but, once again, this is not of paramount concern to the oil producers. There is little scientific evidence about the permanence of the gases sequestered in the wells and some studies suggest there might be slow leakage.

    The coal plants involved still release a portion of their CO2 emissions, in some cases 10% and in some cases 90%, but there has been little effort to perfect that part of the operation as the intention heretofore has simply been to capture some gas for EOR.

    EOR has only been done on small scales. Estimates suggest that CCS for present U.S. coal plants would require new infrastructure equal to the entire present oil and gas system. That’s a lot of gases to be moved and buried in geologic structures. And, if a "clean" coal dependent infrastructure is created, there would be more gases to be moved and buried next year. And more the year after that.

    While the article from which this “nobody wants to be first to try CCS” angle comes implies it is urgent to get busy making clean coal work, NewEnergyNews has another idea. Remember the sign over the gateway to Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Abandon all hope, those who enter here.”

    Maybe there ought to be a similar warning on anything to do with “clean” coal. Read the warning, realize the only ones condemning the world to it are those who can't see beyond it and move on to building a New Energy infrastructure of wind and solar and ocean energies that will cost just as much and take just as long but won’t require the environmental degradation of coal mining. Or the emissions-intensive process of coal transport. Or the mind-numbing life-threatening labor of coal digging. Or the risk of poisonous devastation if the sequestered emissions eventually bubble up.

    Abandon “clean" coal, all those who understand. There is good reason for the title of the Greenpeace report on CCS:
    False hope. Why carbon capture and storage won't save the climate.

    A "clean" coal plant is so far a very complicated plan - and almost nobody has a reason to risk the cutting edge. (click to enlarge)

    G8 wants 20 carbon-burying projects by 2010
    June 8, 2008 (AFP via Yahoo News)
    and
    Carbon-caputring technology is stalled by a Catch-22
    Matthew L. Wald, June 9, 2008 (International Herald Tribune)

    WHO
    Ministers for the Group of Eight plus Three (Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, France, Germany, Russia and the United States plus China, India and South Korea)

    WHAT
    The G8 ministers announced they must immediately ready plans to launch 20 carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects. U.S. projects have great difficulty obtaining approval from regulators and investors due to Catch-22.

    Geologic storage is not a surely proven safe bet. Who pays if it fails? (click to enlarge)

    WHEN
    The G8 ministers statement calls for plans to be ready by 2009 and 20 projects to be underway by 2019. (OK! Who’s first? Come on, speak up…)

    WHERE
    European leaders regularly cite the growing use of coal in emerging economiesas a justification for implementing CCS despite its shortcomings.

    WHY
    - CCS costs ~60 euros (95 dollars)/avoided tonne of CO2. Allowances permitting emissions can be purchased for ~25 euros/tonne of CO2.
    - FutureGen, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) pubic-private partnership pilot CCS project, came to a screeching halt earlier this year when DOE pulled out after costs rose by 1/3 before construction even started.
    - New generation nuclear plants have had similar problems. After Congress took on the burden of insuring the plants, funding fro construction was still too high. When Congress guaranteed loans for nuclear energy undertakings, a few takers came back to the table but continue to hesitate as costs escalate and payback periods get longer.

    Greenpeace doesn't think much of the idea. (click to enlarge)

    QUOTES
    - G8 + 3 ministers’ statement: "We strongly support the recommendation that 20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects need to be launched globally by 2010 ... with a view to supporting technology development and cost reduction for the beginning of broad deployment of CCS by 2020…"
    - Armond Cohen, executive director, Clean Air Task Force: "No one wants to go into the new world…We have very few takers because of the price premium."
    - John Rowe, chief executive, coal and nuclear plant builder/oprator Exelon: "The estimates are accurate to within plus 20 percent to plus 100 percent…These are very complicated projects, with a great deal of both science and engineering and of public acceptability tests that have simply not happened yet…"

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