Clean Coal is Not Clean

Proponents of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology like that Duke and Vectren desire to use at Edwardsport, Indiana, loudly proclaim that IGCC is the answer to global warming since the technology makes its easier to capture carbon dioxide. Once captured, their pitch is that it can be “sequestered” for thousands of years in deep geological formations. Out of sight, out of mind.

In December 2006, the US Department of Energy finally admitted in a supplement to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for an IGCC plant in Pennsylvania that, “DOE has considered the potential to reduce project CO2 emissions using geologic sequestration. This is not a reasonable option because sequestration technology is not sufficiently mature to be implemented at production scale during the demonstration period for the proposed facilities.”

This admission is consistent with most recent research done by government and private sources as it relates to sequestration. In fact, most recent research tells a story that makes the whole idea of sequestration questionable, at best, and perhaps even dangerous for those who may live near the areas where CO2 is dumped underground.

Three areas of concern have emerged in recent studies.

1. CO2 injected near earthquake faults like the region of SW Indiana which is in the New Madrid fault zone, may actually increase the potential for earthquakes due to CO2’s ability to lubricate geologic plates, making it easier for them to move when subjected to pressure from beneath the earth’s surface.

2. Injection of CO2 can ultimately damage groundwater used for drinking by a chemical conversion when the CO2 is injected causing an increase in acidity which leaches dangerous chemicals like metals out of the formation. Those contaminants often find their way to groundwater. Such a chemical conversion could render entire aquifers unusable as drinking water which people depend upon.

3. Huge financial and energy investment in sequestration. Most of the debate about IGCC has evolved around whether it is possible to convert coal to a synthesis gas in a manner that can be used to generate electricity more cleanly than conventional technology called pulverized coal. The real reason utilities are seeking to build these plants is to capture enormous federal and state taxpayer funded subsidies. For instance, Duke and Vectren were recently awarded more than $133 million in federal tax credits to build their costly and dirty plant.

This wrongly labeled “clean coal” has proven to be somewhat cleaner from an air pollution standpoint than pulverized coal but missing from the debate has been a real assessment of what to do with the captured chemicals that are by-products of the process, what the cost of actually building and operating these facilities will be on a commercial scale, how much of the energy produced will be required to run the sophisticated chemical processes required thus reducing the overall efficiency of the plants and what is the actual cost of capturing the CO2 and permanently storing it in some underground geological formation.

As it currently stands, not a single one of these IGCC proposals addresses any of these issues in any great detail. Not only that, but most IGCC proposals are not even promising carbon capture, let alone sequestration.

Add to that the fact that the costs of building proposed IGCC plants has completely gone through the roof. In Minnesota, government documents have recently revealed the cost of Excelsior’s Mesaba IGCC has gone to at least $2.155 billion for a 603 MW facility. That’s a whopping $3.5 million per megawatt, higher than projected cost for nuclear plants these days. It is also true in Indiana where Duke Energy president, Jim Rogers told the media a couple of months ago that the cost of their Edwardsport IGCC plant had increased in cost to build from $1.3 billion in early 2006 to what is now in excess of “$2 billion” for 630 megawatts. That is a per MW cost of $3.17 million and rising. Neither of these facilities have projected the cost to capture and sequester carbon which most estimates suggest will be at least another 50% in construction costs and a big unknown as to what it will cost to actually capture and store the CO2 in operational costs.

Using the conservative 50% figure, the cost of the Edwardsport plant to construct could rise to $4.75 billion or more than $7.5 million/MW. Contrast that with the ill fated Marble Hill Nuclear plant which was forced to stop construction in 1984 due to its rising costs. PSI (now Duke) said originally in 1973 that Marble Hill would cost $700 million for 2,260 MW ($309,000/MW). When it finally went through hearings in 1977, the cost had doubled to $1.4 billion ($619,000/MW). When the state of Indiana forced PSI to stop construction by telling them they would not guarantee that they would allow the plant to be placed into PSI’s rate base, the construction costs had risen to $10 billion ($ 4.4 million/MW).

The comparison with IGCC technology and nukes is valid. Both were risky ventures that required significant government support to be economically feasible at all. Both stood to make their sponsors extremely high profits since they are guaranteed a profit based on their level of investment. (With Marble Hill the allowed rate of return was about 8%, now Duke and Vectren seek a 12% rate of return.)

When the cost of building coal plants rises to a certain level, ALL alternatives should be on the table. Ecological destruction when mined, multiple health problems when burned and contaminating our drinking water when the waste is dumped into aquifers and streams are abundant reasons why alternatives to coal should be pursued.

Who can list a single “Coal community” as prosperous? Indeed, it is the opposite. Coal is the bane of those forced to live near coal, not our economic salvation.

JOHN BLAIR is president of the environment health advocacy group, Valley Watch and earned a Pulitzer Prize for news Photography in 1978. He can be reached at: Ecoserve1@aol.com


More articles by:

JOHN BLAIR is president of the environment health advocacy group, Valley Watch and earned a Pulitzer Prize for news Photography in 1978. He can be reached at: Ecoserve1@aol.com

Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Norman Solomon
Kerry’s Endorsement of Biden Fits: Two Deceptive Supporters of the Iraq War
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
David Yearsley
Parasitic Sounds
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides