We need both clean AND affordable energy

Editor’s note: I just posted this piece as response to yet another article that plays the tired and cliched “dirty coal” game. It’s time for those of us who support American jobs, as well as affordable, secure, domestic AND clean energy to start speaking up. – We need both clean AND affordable Energy.

Coal can and should play a pivotal role in our energy supply

I was disheartened to see Nithin Coca’s recent article make use of the tired epithet “dirty coal” to attack an energy resource that – despite recent market difficulties – continues to provide this country with almost 40% of its electricity needs. Unfortunately the term “dirty coal” conveniently and simplistically ignores the real-life use of technology that makes coal increasingly clean today.

Comparison of Growth Areas and Emissions, 1980-2013

The coal industry has been at the forefront of efforts to reduce emissions, investing billions of dollars in efficiency upgrades and installing billions more in emissions reduction equipment. In fact, research by Energy Ventures Analysis showed that by 2015, the industry had invested over $136 billion in clean coal technologies, and plans to continue investing a further $10 billion by the end of 2017. As a result, there are many examples of clean coal technologies operating throughout the U.S. and the world, which have proved to be very effective at reducing emissions.

While coal use in the U.S. more than doubled over the past 45 years, overall emissions of the six common pollutants on the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) list have decreased by more than 68% and emissions of the three primary, or “criteria pollutants” (NOX, SOX, and particulate matter – PM) have decreased by almost 90%. Additionally, widely used technologies, like selective catalytic reduction can be paired with activated carbon injection to help existing coal plants achieve mercury emissions reductions of 90% or more.

Similar emissions reductions in any other industry would be widely hailed as groundbreaking.

But we’re not done there. The coal industry is also addressing CO2 emissions. For example, projects like the Dakota Gasification Company, which produces synthetic natural gas by gasifying North Dakota lignite (a lower rank coal), actively captures CO2 and ships it via pipeline to Saskatchewan, Canada, where it is used in a process called “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR). EOR helps to optimize oil production from mature oil fields and stores CO2 emissions permanently underground. Operating since 1984, the plant had captured over 24.5 million tons of CO2 at the start of 2013.

Furthermore, a joint Archer Daniels Midland / Department of Energy project is demonstrating the potential for carbon capture use and storage to grow. The Illinois Basin-Decatur Project has successfully captured and stored 1 million metric tons of CO2 in a deep saline formation. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz lauded this project as “an important step towards the widespread deployment of carbon capture technologies in real-world settings.”

Mr. Coca also described the efforts of groups like the Sierra Club. However, it is unfortunate that these groups refuse to recognize the need that average Americans have for abundant, affordable, reliable energy supplies. In fact, these groups regularly oppose the construction or continued use of coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, and yes, even renewable energy in some cases. If we followed their lead, Americans would be left with few (if any) real energy options and would be left shivering in the dark.

One of the best ways we can meet our growing need for energy is by ensuring American utilities can continue to use widely available emissions reductions technologies on their existing coal plants–rather than being forced to shutter those plants and lay off workers. We should also support the further development of new clean coal technologies, so that coal-based energy can continue to play a pivotal role in providing Americans with affordable, reliable, AND clean electricity.

Jason Hayes is the Associate Director of the American Coal Council.

04. August 2015 by Jason Hayes
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