Thursday, August 24, 2006

Colorado and Coal

Colorado Matters had Jeff Goodell on the other day. His book "Big Coal : The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future" recently came out. It was interesting to listen to him. I haven't had a chance to read his book yet but he didn't strike me as overly sensational. He brought up some points that we don't hear a lot about energy issues. For example Tri-State [] wants to spend $5 billion to build 3 new coal plants. Jeff Goodell claims that $400 million spend in demand side management would eliminate the need for the additional energy. Checking SWEEP's web site [], I didn't see a verification of that specifically, but I did find :

“Promoting energy efficiency would be a lot more cost-effective than building new coal-fired power plants and transmission lines,” stated Howard Geller, co-author of the report and Executive Director of SWEEP. “Utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs could result in$760 million in net savings for consumers and businesses served by Tri-State, rather than billions of dollars in net costs,” Geller added.

I wasn't able to confirm if that $760 in net savings included that $400m in expenses or not. It wouldn't suprise me. Unlink mass transit, a lot of changes made for energy effenciency don't require major lifestyle changes. They simply involve updating the applliances or the buildings people use.

One point Goodell kept hammering away at was that we didn't know the true cost of coal. For example, he mentioned the American Lung Association had claimed there were 24,000 premature deaths each year in the US. Well, alcohol is involved in 18,000 premature deaths each year in the US. Additional taxation hasn't ended that problem. That's not to say it hasn't made a differenene. But one has to wonder how much carbon taxes would help to address the issue.

What's bothersome was that he didn't address at all the changes to the current situation coal gasification and carbon squestering bring to the use of coal. He did mention that 40% of total carbon emissions in the US are from coal. So why wouldn't someone who's talking about the high cost of coal and who recognizes that 40% of carbon emissions are due to it, not talk about technolgies that could cut it in half in the near future and 10 - 20 years from now reduce it by over 90%?

A lot of environmental groups and people avoid talking about any further use of coal. So it's nice to find one that does, Western Resource Advotactes [ ]. I understand why groups don't embrace coal. It has a lot of issues. But other power solutions do too. And considerin that IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) coal technology in it's early form can cut coal plant emissions by 40% to 60% with poential for 90% or more, it seems like a valid option. As the Durango Herald (Durango Herald; Aug. 18 ) points out in an article last week, it wouldn't require much additional money, $50 million. When you consider that in light of Tri-State wanting to spend $5 billion for 3 new plants, it's a very minor additional cost with a lot of clear, immediate benefits. Considering that coal power plants account for 35% to 40% of carbon emissions, this one technology has potentional to LOWER our carbon emissions by 25 – 30%. It's the closet thing we have to a silver bullet right now.

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