Clean coal has hit a speedbump, but it remains essential
By William F. Shughart II
The Kemper County, Miss., power plant, once heralded as the future of clean coal, has become the poster child for its struggles.
Over-budget and mired in technical problems, the Southern Company, Kemper’s builder, recently announced that it’s giving up on the plant’s advanced coal-gasification systems. Instead, the plant will be powered solely by natural gas.
Renewable energy advocates and climate hawks had been expecting the announcement for months and reacted with predictable derision and high-fiving. But their gloating is foolish.
If they really care about tackling climate change — as they claim — critics should be deeply concerned about Southern’s failure to successfully commercialize Kemper’s clean-coal technology. Because despite Kemper’s woes, the carbon capture and storage technology it was developing remains absolutely essential to reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.
Unfortunately, the renewables-or-nothing crowd seems uninterested in a thoughtful or sober analysis of the world’s current and future energy needs. Activists point to coal’s retreat in the United States, massive wind and solar subsidies in Germany, and renewable energy investments in China and India and conclude that the world’s clean energy challenges can be met through political will, rather than technology. They couldn’t be more wrong.