Clean coal has been one of alternatives suggested many times by the Obama Administration (and others) to replace the traditional, highly polluting coal plants now in existence. According to the Washington Post, today, coal makes up about 40 percent of electricity generation in the United States, in part because it is so inexpensive compared with the other forms of energy.
However, the heavy toll — both in mining accidents and air pollution — have led many to believe that there must be better, more efficient, and healthier ways to create energy. Enter the alternatives: natural gas, nuclear, solar, and wind.
In the mean time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been proposing new rules to limit the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by new coal plants under a system called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which would decrease the amount of particulate matter from 1,400-1,700 pounds per megawatt hour to 1,100.
Of course, building new, more efficient plants is a costly undertaking. According to Businessweek, a new clean coal plant located in Kemper County, Mississippi, has been winning rave reviews for its ability to capture (and convert to liquid, for use in other energy projects) carbon emissions completely. Built by Southern Energy, this model plant does not come without its downside, and that is its cost.
The 2006 price tag of $1.8 billion has now turned into $5.2 billion (and counting). In addition, the cost to produce energy will be $6,800 per kilowatt, while nuclear energy is about $5,500 and natural gas an even better bargain at around $1,000. This means that local utility customers could see their bills rise by as much as 22 percent.
Distortion in the debate
Enter special interests in the form of the National Mining Association. They have taken the debate over costs and suggested (by suggesting an expert’s 90 to 95 percent capture rate, which the Obama Administration has already said it would not implement) and put out ads telling consumers that they will be paying 80 percent more in their utility bills. Scare tactics that work, unfortunately.
Yet, can it be said that environmentalists are being completely honest by suggesting clean coal is the best alternative? It seems to be a compromise position, staked out so as not to offend the coal mining community. The real truth is that coal is a dirty, expensive type of energy to clean up; alternative energies make more sense, but may not be as popular.
While there’s little rationale and a whole lot of distortion behind the 80 percent increase suggested by mining’s special interest group, the fact remains that clean coal is expensive compared with the alternatives. Of course it can become less so over time with widespread use, but can the US afford to wait that long for cleaner energy?