The coal-industry public relations group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, is crowing over the Senate’s insertion of billions of dollars of coal pork in the recovery plan. The Senate plan added $2.2 billion to the House’s generous allocation of $2.4 billion for the development of “carbon capture and sequestration technologies.” ACCCE is celebrating this “$4.6 billion in clean coal technology funding” in an email to its supporters, claiming the “funding is important because”:
- It contributes to energy independence, allowing us to use coal that is right here in America
- It stimulates the economy and could create almost 7 million job-years of employment and over $1 trillion in sales
- It will help fight climate change and aid other environmental goals by promoting technologies to reduce carbon dioxide and major air pollutants
Only by a gross distortion of industry-friendly estimates could $4.6 billion for coal technology really “create almost 7 million job-years of employment and over $1 trillion in sales.” The “7 million job-years” figure comes from “Employment and Other Economic Benefits from Advanced Coal Electric Generation with Carbon Capture and Storage,” a BBC Research report commissioned by ACCCE. In fact, the report says only that the construction of 100 gigawatts of advanced coal plants — about 200 plants over a fifteen-year span — would generate that much job activity. The construction expenditures for a single plant with CCS is estimated at “approximately $2.0 to $2.1 billion.” So the $4.6 billion in the Senate plan is enough for the construction of only two plants and about 6,000 construction and manufacturing jobs. Two hundred plants would cost a staggering $393 billion. The ACCCE email “is a bit confused,” Doug Jeavons, the author of the BBC report tells the Wonk Room:
The nearly 7 million job-years estimate is associated with full scale development of about 100 gigawatts of advanced coal CCS capacity, not just the proposed $4.6 billion in the stimulus plan.
Furthermore, the technology to build such plants does not yet exist. As NV Energy announced when they indefinitely postponed the construction of a coal-fired plant in Ely, Nevada:
The company will not move forward with construction of the coal plant until the technologies that will capture and store greenhouse gasses are commercially feasible, which is not likely before the end of the next decade.
To make CCS technology commercially viable, the federal government needs to do more than throw billions of dollars at the coal industry with lax provisions. As the Center for American Progress recommends, there should be a federal greenhouse emissions performance standard put in place for new plants, and a cap-and-trade system to make polluters pay for their emissions.