Coal, coal everywhere

A recent New York Times editorial shows a black and smoky future for electrical generation in the US.

To quote:

TXU, a giant Texas energy company , that it intends to build 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas, plus another dozen or so coal-fired monsters elsewhere in the country. All told, this would be the nation’s largest single coal-oriented construction campaign in years.”

“Is TXU availing itself of the cleaner technology? No. TXU will use the old pulverized coal model. The company says the older models are more reliable. But the real reason it likes the older models is that they are easier to build, cheaper to run and, ultimately, much more profitable. So, like the Chinese, TXU is locking itself (and the country) into at least 50 more years of the most carbon-intensive technology around.”


Firstly, the likelihood that 50 years will pass without the U.S. moving to both regulate and charge for carbon output seems to me, the eternal optimist, inconceivable. Therefore, the management at TXU should, if they ever look up from their bean-counting, factor in a very large unknown cost in operating their new but outdated power generation facilities. They should also notice that California cities are canceling contracts to buy power from coal generating facilities and the rest of the country could and I hope will follow suite.

Secondly, if we put blinders on and forget carbon, the mercury released by coal plants such as these is likely to make them a target of regulators and sportsmen alike. I would really like to be able to take my kids fishing and eat a fish that isn’t silver with mercury.

Thirdly, the huge, untapped wind generating capacity of the very same areas that they plan to service with their coal power plants will, with much of any effort at all, offer a lower cost alternative power generating source in far less than 50 years.

Fourth, I, again the optimist, would like to believe that labor costs for coal mining will increase to meet the real health related concerns of the people working in the mines.

Finally, if they do go ahead and build all or part of these plants, I can only hold out hope for some of carbon sequestration technologies under development that are designed to be retrofitted onto coal generating plants.

Nocarbon Progress Blog