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Meet the New Coal, Same as the Old Coal

by Richard T. Stuebi
 
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.

United States Half Way to 2020 CO2 Goal

By John Addison (original post in Clean Fleet Report)

For the fifth consecutive year, EPA is reporting an increase in fuel efficiency with a corresponding decrease in average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for new cars and light duty trucks. Average CO2 emissions have decreased by 39 grams per mile, or 8 percent, and average fuel economy has increased by 1.8 mpg, or 9 percent, since 2004.

“American drivers are increasingly looking for cars that burn cleaner, burn less gas and won’t burn a hole in their wallets,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We’re working to help accelerate this trend with strong investments in clean energy technology – particularly for the cars and trucks that account for almost 60 percent of greenhouse gases from transportation sources. Cleaner, more efficient vehicles can help reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, cut harmful pollution, and save people money — and it’s clear that’s what the American car buyer wants.”

Progress surprisingly slowed during the recession. For 2008, the last year for which EPA has final data from automakers, the average fuel economy value was 21.0 (mpg). EPA projects a small improvement in 2009, based on pre-model year sales estimates provided to EPA by automakers, to 21.1 mpg. When the tax payers handed GM and Chrysler $70 billion weren’t we promised more progress than that?

The 10 Best 2010 Hybrids achieve 30 to 50 .

The EPA report confirms that average CO2 emissions have decreased and fuel economy has increased each year beginning in 2005. This positive trend beginning in 2005 reverses a long period of increasing CO2 emissions and decreasing fuel economy from 1987 through 2004, and returns CO2 emissions and fuel economy to levels of the early 1980s.

While the Senate debates if it is possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 17 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level, Americans already have us half the way there in the transportation sector. Americans are cutting car use with flexwork, car pooling, and transit. Gas guzzlers are being replaced with fuel misers and even electric cars.

In addition, new buildings use much less electricity and heat due to better insulation, HVAC systems, and even LED lighting. Emissions will really dip if we stop subsidizing oil and coal, and put a price on carbon emissions.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.