by Richard T. Stuebi
As reported a few months ago by the Associated Press, a number of new coal-fired powerplants are now under construction in the U.S. without the ability to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions.
One passage from the article stands out: “The expansion, the industry’s largest in two decades, represents an acknowledgement that highly touted ‘clean coal’ technology is still a long ways from becoming reality and underscores a renewed confidence among utilities that proposals to regulate carbon emissions will fail.”
Which, as we all know, they have. And, the consensus is that carbon-limiting regulations will not be forthcoming in the U.S. for some time to come.
I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page, noting that investment decisions in new coal plants are typically a 50-year commitment, thereby further locking the U.S. into a carbon-intensive future for a long time to come.
This generated a few reactions from some friends. One, who works at a major U.S. utility, doubted some of the facts in the article. But, I don’t think he disputed the key messages.
Another, who works at another major utility, said it was far easier to be a critic as a spectator than as a company who is responsible for keeping the lights on. Fair enough.
I understand and respect many of the strategic and operating pressures facing electric utilities. Many of these companies are just doing the best that they can while playing by the existing rules of the game — broken though they may be.
What I do find appalling is the lack of national will to change the rules of the game in such a way that it provides a clear framework for energy companies to invest in something other than mid-20th Century coal-burning technologies.
It seems especially absurd to invest in new coal powerplants based on conventional technologies when so many existing coal powerplants of a pretty-darn-similar technological base are at risk of being retired in the coming years: a study released last week by the Brattle Group indicates that U.S. utilities might shut down 50,000 megawatts of aging coal powerplants rather than invest in equipment upgrades to meet tightening EPA regulations.
And, I do criticize those companies who participate in the undermining of national will to take serious action to reduce carbon emissions, at the peril of our planet and of future generations. No doubt, some of those companies are those that are building coal powerplants without carbon capture and sequestration capability as we speak.
I remain optimistic that, someday, the U.S. will get serious in addressing carbon emissions. When that day comes, I won’t cry for those companies that acted to help entrench the status quo and in parallel made bets today that they will regret then.