academic environmental studies   macalester college
smokestackpowerlinesmorecoalsmokestackpowerlinesmorecoalsmokestackpowerlinesmorecoal


Clean Coal: Reality or Rhetoric? 

Abstract

What is Clean Coal?

Is it Really Clean?

Clean Coal Technologies

Clean Coal in the Media

The Cost of Clean Coal

Case Studies

Conclusion
References & Links


 Comments & questions to:
 mmayfie1@macalester.edu



Clean Coal: Reality or Rhetoric? 

Clean Coal in the Media

The idea of “clean coal” has been most recently introduced to the American public through the use of advertisements in various forms: newspaper ads, billboards, and even television commercials like the ones at left. In fact, these commercials have been aired very widely on major networks. They were aired by CNN during the YouTube Republican debate and during the democratic debate that was held in Nevada.[21]  However, these commercials hold an obvious bias, evidenced by their sponsor, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, or ABEC. The majority of funding for ABEC comes from coal-based energy providers.[1]  According the Washington Post, during the presidential primaries, ABEC spent $1.3 million on billboard, newspaper, television, and radio ads in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina alone.[22]  The coal mining industry increased ABEC’s budget to four times its previous amount this year, as well as increasing the budget of its main lobbying group, the National Mining Association by 20% in response to the public’s resistance to coal due to its carbon-producing qualities.[22]  Very recently, ABEC has become even larger, merging with the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) to create the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), whose goal, according to the group, is “to advance the development and deployment of advance clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions.”[23]  ABEC’s commercials like this one advertise a future with lower emissions from coal plants, including the capture and storage of carbon. However, the technology for carbon capture and storage is not yet readily available and may not be for another ten to fifteen years.[24] 

Not only is the technology for carbon sequestration not yet widely available, but gasification is not the only option being considered for new coal power plants, meaning that older types of coal plants that emit much more pollutants could still be built. Companies building new power plants must evaluate the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) in order to find the most effective pollution controls, but on December 13, 2005, the EPA ruled that the Clean Air Act does not require IGCC to be considered as a part of BACT.[3]  Environmental groups then sued to the EPA and the EPA declared that their ruling, which was presented in the form of a memo, is neither binding nor a final agency policy, but they did not change their decision.[3] 

The Cost of Clean Coal

The cost of these new clean coal technologies has thus-far proven to be one of the biggest obstacles in moving forward in implementing these technologies in existing plants or building newer, cleaner, ones.  However, the advertisements, put out by ABEC direct viewers to go to a website (http://www.americaspower.org) in order to learn more about clean coal, and the website paints a slightly different picture on the issue of cost. In the website’s section “The Facts,” a map of the United States appears. Clicking on a state brings up statistics about coal usage in that state, including the percentage of electricity coal provides in comparison to other energy sources, the average retail price, and the state’s rank in comparison to other states in average retail price. The site emphasizes the that coal can provide lower energy costs by describing states like Nebraska, which is ranked as the 5th cheapest, as, “powered by coal, the cornhusker state enjoys low electricity prices,” or Montana, the 14th cheapest, as, “more than half its power from coal keeps electricity prices low.” In contrast, states like Idaho who rely on hydropower are simply described as “unusual,” when their prices are ranked as the cheapest among all fifty states. This language creates a bias against alternative, and in Idaho’s case, renewable, energy sources. Furthermore, while the website tries to make it seem like high usage of coal correlates directly with low electricity prices, this is not necessarily the case. Colorado, a state that, according to the website, “uses coal for an overwhelming majority [70%] of its power,” has the 26th highest average retail price, and New Mexico, who gets, “nearly all [80.1%] of its power from coal,” ranks as the state with the 28th highest average prices. America’s Power also promotes the benefits of coal use in general, citing that coal meets the country’s need for “base-load power,” or the energy needed to meet the constant demand and to maintain the electricity grid. Thirty-eight states in the US have large coal deposits, making it a domestic resource.[1]  The website lauds the fact that the nation’s coal reserves would last for two hundred years, but this also brings to light the fact that coal is not a renewable resource.
    Advertisements like the one at  right imply that using clean coal technologies will keep energy prices affordable. However, low energy costs are not likely to result from the use of clean coal technologies. Not only does the site the advertisements direct viewers towards use language that tries to persuade people like use of coal reduces the price of electricity, but it also does not even attempt to create a picture of what prices of electricity would be like if the “clean coal” technology that ABEC’s commercials promote, like IGCC and CCS were to be implemented. Because the technology required for the processes of both IGCC and CCS technology are very expensive to build, it is likely that the costs of the electricity produces from these plants would also be higher.[18]  According to some calculations, if CCS were to be implemented, it could increase the coal of energy from coal by 40-90%. Additionally, not all power plants can utilize CCS, and ones that could someday be adapted to be able to use carbon capture, like IGCC plants, also cost 10-20% more to build.[8]  While IGCC plants can employ carbon sequestration technology, not many of these types of plants exist today. Four are currently in operation today: the PSI Wabash River plant in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the Tampa Electric Polk One plant in Mulberry, FL, a plant in Buggenum, Netherlands, and one in Puertollano, Spain.[7]  Therefore, in order for the cleanest coal technology to be implemented, more plants with the ability to employ these technologies would have to be built, increasing costs.

Works Cited

[1] America’s Power. <http://www.americaspower.org>.
[3] Pelley, Janet. “Is EPA blocking clean coal technology?” Environmental Science and Technology. 1 January 2007. Pg. 11-12.
[7] Edwards, Steven. “IGCC Technology: A Promising – and Complex- Solution.” World Energy. V8. N3. 2008. <http://www.worldenergysource.com/articles/text/edwards_WE_v8n3.cfm>.
  FutureGen Alliance. January 2008. Accessed April 25, 2008.
[8] Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears.” The New York
Times. 23 April 2008. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/europe/23coal.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin>.
[18]  “FutureGen chairman urges House panel not to abandon progress at Mattoon.” FutureGen
Alliance. 15 April 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
<http://www.futuregenalliance.org/news/releases/pr_04-15-08.stm>.
[21] Coal’s Dirty Little Secrets.” Center for American Progress Action Fund. 30 November 2007.
Accessed 25 April 2008. <http://www.americanprogressaction.org/progressreport/2007/11/pr20071130>.
[22] Mufson, Steven. “Coal Industry Plugs Into the Campaign.” WashingtonPost.com. 18 January 2008. 25 April 2008. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2008/01/17/AR2008011702837.html>.
[23] “American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.” American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Accessed 26 April 2008. <http://www.cleancoalusa.org/docs/about>. 
[24]   Murawski, John. “Clean coal would cost billions.” NewsandObservor.com. 24 March 2007.
<http://www.newsobserver.com/104/story/556925.html>.



    


Clean Coal Commerical:







Another commercial for clean coal: 




Last updated:  5/9/2008

 


Macalester College 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA  651-696-6000
Comments and questions to mmayfie1@macalester.edu