July 19, 2017
When the Kemper Power Plant finally folded its cards, it prompted a shrill chorus of “we told you so’s” from the guardians of renewable energy. The foundation-fueled NGOs see in Kemper’s collapse the death Nell of “clean coal”. Pity about those miners now without a future, they say. Whatever can we do for them?
Aside from the customary cynicism here, what truly rankles is the unseemly haste to bury an industry that withstood a regulatory gut punch to generate 30 percent of the nation’s electricity and already sees domestic and offshore demand rising.
What happened at Kemper was not a dead end for coal. The Petra Nova plant in Houston and the Boundary Dam plant in Saskatchewan are up and running. If Kemper’s demise foreshadows coal’s demise, explain today’s aviation industry after early crashes, or the Mars landing after early launchpad catastrophes. The boom in shale gas followed many quiet busts.
Technologies achieve commercial application – and drive down costs – only by trial and error. That’s usually the way it works – unless of course your favored technology relies on federal mandates to create demand and taxpayers to subsidize its cost.
Kemper’s struggles with carbon capture and storage (CCS) especially delight climate cultists. By making CCS the Holy Grail, they dismiss as useless other high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) technologies that are commercially available, even though they remove virtually all conventional pollutants and up to a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions.
Not good enough, they say. If you’re not as good as Tom Brady forget playing football. But by making perfection the enemy of the good, greens discourage the solution – the steady, assured emissions reductions — the world needs. Fortunately, global growth in the entire suite of advanced coal technologies – from super-critical pulverized coal to gasification combined cycle – has almost doubled in the past decade according to the Energy Information Agency. In recent years, says Platts, about one new 500-MW coal-based power plant came on line every three days – most with HELE technology.
This leads to a final illusion. That closing our eyes to advanced coal technologies, belittling “clean coal” as a fiction, will somehow make coal disappear. Those who believe this believe China is committed to decarbonization. As The New York Times recently reported, China’s energy companies are building or planning to build more than 700 new coal plants both at home and overseas. China still consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined.
The world needs coal more than it fears climate change. According to an environmental group based in Berlin, some 1,600 new coal plants are either under construction or planned around the world. Coal, abundant, cheap and reliable, remains the fuel of choice for electricity generation.
Kemper notwithstanding, fossil fuels like coal are here to stay. Best we get over it and make them cleaner. If the world is to reduce emissions, we’ll need more Kempers.
- On July 19, 2017