October 2009

State News: August 2009


Pursuing Cleaner Coal

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Tension Brewing

But not every state has been as supportive of clean coal technologies, such as integrated gasification combined cycle power plants—the coal-fired power plants that turn coal into gas, ready to compress then pipe or inject into the ground.
Last spring, American Electric Power’s plans for a multibillion-dollar integrated gasification combined cycle plant to be built in Mason County, W. Va., were stalled when the Virginia State Corporation Commission rejected the plan in May 2008.
“If the public service commissions aren’t convinced that this new build is what’s right in cost and environmental concerns—then they’re going to hold back a little bit,” said Greg Pauley, director of public policy for American Electric Power.
And the decision by Virginia’s regulators basically halted the project, Pauley said. The plans for the proposed plant are in limbo, but are “still on the table,” he said.
Sarkus, from the federal government, believes there’s tension brewing between environmental regulators considering CO2 regulations from an environmental standpoint and economic regulators seeking to keep consumer’s rates from increasing too much.
“In the end, somebody’s got to pay for whatever option we choose,” Sarkus said.
But the time to act may be now, Leonard, from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said. “States need to be working as some of them are in terms of teams within the executive and legislative branches really to anticipate what states can and need to do (about coal),” Leonard said. “If the utilities start capturing CO2, it’s going to drive up the rates of electricity.”
And right now CO2 is not considered a pollutant; Washington is still considering that issue, but “smart money says it’s going to be a pollutant, but when,” Leonard said.
As far as injecting the captured CO2 gas and pumping it underground for storage, “If you’re going to be injecting this stuff underground, then property rights are going to be affected,” Leonard said. That’s another consideration with the whole clean coal technology debate.
There could also be liability issues while you’re injecting CO2 underground, he added. At some point, companies are going to stop injecting the CO2 underground, so what entity is going to be liable for it when companies have come and gone, Leonard asked, because the captured CO2 is supposed to stay underground for hundreds or thousands of years.
But until clean coal plants come online in the U.S., there’s still this tension between making coal cleaner and making rates affordable.
Pauley thinks there is a way to marry the new cleaner coal technology with reasonable electricity rates. “We think there are ways that we will refer to as alternative ratemaking—that will help us accomplish mutual goals,” Pauley said.
“The costs are what’s impacting decisions right now.”
—Mikel Chavers is associate editor of State News magazine.


Manchin Supports Clean Coal
Promoting a Clean ‘All-Sources’ Energy Plan

The 2009 president of The Council of State Governments, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, will spearhead CSG’s leadership initiative on energy this year. With the nation’s economic downturn and current recession, the issue of affordable and sustainable energy is rising in importance. Manchin’s stance is: While alternative energy sources may represent the future of America’s power industry, the reality is that traditional sources of energy still dominate the portfolio with more than half the nation’s energy coming from coal alone.
Clean coal technology is not only important to West Virginia, it’s important to the entire country, especially “when you have a dependency that we have on foreign oil,” said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.
“Everyone should figure out what do we have that can immediately reduce that dependency and then how do we transform it into the fuels of the future—that’s what we’re talking about,” Manchin said in an interview with State News.
Today, more than half the electricity produced for the country comes from coal, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“With that there’s been pollution that come from so many different facets, and coal being one of them. Now, we have the ability to do it better through research and finding new technologies.”
So coal, Manchin said, has to be a part of the answer.
“We’ve just got to make sure everyone’s on the same page of understanding. If we’re going to use coal—which every economist, every scientist tells us that we will for some time—as we transform to cleaner, greener energies or finding energies of the future, we should be responsible to clean up this form of energy,” Manchin said.
“If you’re saying that by using and burning coal, that the carbon dioxide is basically a pollutant for the atmosphere, they need to be finding ways to clean it up,” Manchin said. “How do you pull off the stream of carbon and heavy metals and be able to put that in a valuable product?”
—Mikel Chavers is associate editor of State News magazine.
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