The Times West Virginian

Local News

September 21, 2013

Killing coal?: Standard ‘not commercially available’

FAIRMONT — During congressional hearings this week, U.S. Rep. David McKinley said that he heard some startling information about carbon dioxide emissions.

Each year since 2007, the United Nations has produced an International Panel on Climate Change Report to discuss issues about how carbon emissions affect the climate. McKinley said that within this year’s report, there could be some hope for the future of a fossil energy-based economy.

McKinley, R-W.Va., said that part of the report concludes that worldwide, if you account for every source of carbon dioxide, from burning forests to volcanoes to coal-fired power generation to automobiles and even down to even human breath, 800 billion tons are emitted into the atmosphere.

“If in America every coal-fired power house, every coal-fired boiler, all coal-fired generation in America were to stop, we would only impact the total CO2 emissions around the globe by two-tenths of 1 percent,” McKinley said.

McKinley said that could be good news for coal-producing states like West Virginia, if only the Barack Obama administration

would support the use of coal as part of the national energy plan and fund clean-coal technology research.

With the announcement Friday that in order to combat climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency would start to limit carbon dioxide emissions for new coal-fired power plants immediately and existing plants by June of 2014, that hope seems dismal.

“We’re fighting against something, we’re putting our economy at risk, we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars per year for two-tenths of 1 percent? I’m just not comfortable with what science is backing up the necessity of spending all of this money,” McKinley said.

The new standards in place set by the EPA would only allow for power plants using carbon capture and sequestration systems (CCS) to be constructed, based on the allowed amount of emissions.

By design, the CCS process collects carbon dioxide from flue gas streams at power plants that burn coal to generate electricity, pumping it 1.5 miles underground and into a reservoir.

While many speculate there will be lawsuits filed over this latest EPA regulation, McKinley says congressional leaders are already looking into the issue.

“We are going through it with a fine-tooth comb for any weaknesses and what tools do we have here in Congress to push back. What they are doing is very similar to before. It sets up a standard for new coal-fired power houses that is not commercially available. (CCS) working in laboratories in small settings, but to do it on a commercial level, the only one in America is down in Mississippi ... it’s a relatively small power house, but it received nearly $300 million in federal grants to make it work.

“I don’t think that’s what we’re going to do for every coal-fired power house, give them $300 million in federal grants. This process has to work with conventional financing and not grants from the federal government.

“There’s still not a commercially viable project that has been developed using this. Therefore, absent a grant, you’re not going to see coal-fired power houses go online now due to regulations once they go into effect.”

In 2009, American Electric Power was given stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a carbon capture and sequestering system (CCS) at its Mountaineer power plant in New Haven. AEP was to be one of three companies in the country charged with expanding CCS technology on a commercial scale and developing a working model for the rest of the nation and world to follow. But by 2011, the company announced the end of the project, citing uncertainty about the nation’s future climate policy and a weak economy.

When asked whether he believes the DOE would approve funding for research and technology to help make CCS more commercially viable or even prove that it could work on a large scale,

McKinley said that when the Obama administration cut funding for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown by 41 percent, it was a message that there was no interest in funding clean-coal technology research.

“This should not be a surprise that this is happening,” McKinley said, based on statements that Obama made earlier this winter. “But it is causing uncertainty in America.”

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., issued a statement on the EPA’s new source performance standards, saying that the measure will lose American jobs and cause utility costs to soar.

“Today’s announcement of the EPA’s new source performance standard is direct evidence that this administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards. Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible,” Manchin said.

“It is past time that this country establishes an all-of-the-above energy policy that uses every domestic resource available to us, and that includes coal.”

Manchin said such regulations would also increase economic uncertainty in a nation still coming out of recession.

“We need the federal government to work as a partner, not an adversary, and to invest in America’s energy future,” the senator said. “I will continue to fight EPA overreach, just as I did as governor, to protect the reliable, affordable energy and the good-paying jobs that coal-fired power plants provide in West Virginia and across this country.”

Email Misty Poe at mpoe@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV.

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