MAC: Mines and Communities

Coal - "a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem"

Published by MAC on 2007-11-28

Coal - "a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem"

28th November 2007

The World Watch Institute has just released its latest survey of global coal consumption and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions [see: "Coal's dirtiest year: 2006", in this week's MAC update]. The prognosis is sobering to say the least. However, the Institute seems upbeat about the use of technology to capture and sequester carbon.

Now, a proposal by a US public utility to use " wet slurry coal gasification" and store the resulting CO2 has been unanimously rejected by Washington state.

According to one estimate, the proposed plant would "pump up to six million tons of global-warming pollution into Washington skies every year."

Comments an environmental lawyer: " It's time to move on .Coal is a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem."

Washington State Rejects Coal Gasification Power Plant

OLYMPIA, Washington, (ENS)

28th November 2007

Environmental groups are applauding Tuesday's decision by Washington state siting officials to halt consideration of a proposed coal gasification power plant at the Port of Kalama in southwest Washington state near the Oregon border.

Members of the state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, EFSEC, unanimously rejected the plan by public power agency Energy Northwest for permanently storing, or sequestering, some of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, emitted by the power plant as required by state law.

Senate Bill 6001, passed this year by the Washington State Legislature, requires new power plants in the state to emit no more CO2 than would a modern natural gas-fired plant.

The proposed Kalama coal plant could be permitted if its developers produced an acceptable, feasible plan for capturing and storing the excess emissions and made an effort to implement that plan.

The Northwest Energy Coalition, the Sierra Club's Cascade chapter, the Washington Environmental Council and those groups' Earthjustice attorneys argued that Energy Northwest had not produced such a plan.

They further argued that EFSEC should stop wasting the public's time and money considering such a fatally flawed permit application. On Tuesday, the EFSEC agreed.

The proposed plant, known as the Pacific Mountain Energy Facility, is an integrated gasification combined cycle power generation facility that would use fuel flexible gasification technology and processes to produce 680 megawatts of electrical power.

The preliminary design is based on a wet slurry gasification process. In this process, coke or coal is crushed and mixed with water to form a slurry. The slurry is combined with high purity oxygen in the gasifiers to form a synthesis gas. The syngas is then used to fuel combustion turbines to generate electrical power.

The greenhouse gas reduction plan filed by Energy Northwest states that a plan such as contemplated by the new state law is impossible to prepare at present based on the technological and economical infeasibility of geological sequestration.

Instead, Energy Northwest presented a proposal to prepare a specific plan at some future time, perhaps as late as 2020, when geological sequestration becomes a proven technology for use by power plants and a number of asserted technological, engineering, and legal questions have been answered.

In the interim, Energy Northwest proposed to consider offsets for the carbon dioxide the Pacific Mountain Energy Facility would emit.

According to the council, the greenhouse gas reduction plan "misses the mark by a wide margin - it is not susceptible of a few minor fixes to render it even minimally sufficient."

"Energy Northwest should stop wasting ratepayers' money on this plant," said Sierra Club regional representative Kathleen Ridihalgh. "Investments in conservation, energy efficiency and renewables are a better use of public utility customers' money."

Unlike conventional coal plants that burn coal, Energy Northwest says the facility would produce "a clean-burning, hydrogen-rich synthesis gas from petroleum coke, coal or other solid feedstocks."

"The technology allows for the reduction or removal of carbon dioxide and pollutants often associated with power plant emissions," the public power agency said in July.

The agency is part of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, an effort to develop and promote permanent, large-scale carbon dioxide sequestration funded by the federal Department of Energy.

Energy Northwest also points to the potential economic boon that the $1.5 billion project will be to one of the state’s most economically challenged areas.

But Washington Environmental Council climate campaign director Becky Kelley commended the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council for halting a project that she says would pump up to six million tons of global-warming pollution into Washington skies every year.

"We should promote renewable sources now - that is a key way we will succeed in meeting the challenge of climate change," Kelley said.

"It's time to move on," said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. "Coal is a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem." Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.


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