New hit show “Law & Order: Coal Plants.” The victims and suspects vary, but not the verdict: Innocent by reason of sanity

[Sean’s post-mortems on coal plants would almost make for a new “Law & Order” series. Every week, another victim bites the dust and another suspect is uncovered, but the motive is always the same — self-defense. See also the NYT story, “Is America Ready to Quit Coal?]

I’ve been following coal plant cancellations for the past couple weeks (see my previous two posts on the topic to get caught up), but it has been hard to keep up with the dizzying pace with which municipalities, states, and universities are nixing plans to build new conventional generating capacity.

Now, three more coal plants are on the chopping block in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin’s Charter Street power plant will stop burning coal and convert instead to biomass by 2012 — part of Governor Doyle’s larger plan to phase out coal from powering any government or University of Wisconsin buildings. Visionary though the governor’s plan may seem, a 2007 Sierra Club lawsuit, as well as some very vocal student activist groups certainly played a role in helping push the decision through.


In Pomeroy Ohio, plans for an American Electric Power “clean-coal” (IGCC is a bit cleaner in terms of conventional pollutants, but still emits plenty of carbon) power plant have been put on temporary hold. AEP’s VP of external affairs says the company still wants to build there, but that they have put the project on hold due to economic conditions.

Of course, what they are really waiting for is for the state to decide whether or not last year’s Senate Bill 221 will ultimately allow for rate hikes to help power companies cover construction costs of new coal plants. AEP president Joe Hamrock says that without recovery allowances, the plant cannot be built. Wait… isn’t coal supposed to be the cheap energy choice? If even new coal plants are going to cause rate hikes then… what was the argument against renewables again?

Finally, and this is a big one, plans for a $5 billion, 1,500 megawatt conventional coal plant in Eastern Nevada were postponed due to “increasing environmental and economic uncertainties surrounding its development.” The company NV Energy says it will not move forward with the project until technology to sequester and store carbon are commercially feasible.

The company is keeping plans for a 250-mile transmission line linking Northern and Southern Nevada, which they say will be used instead to deliver electricity from “renewables and other energy production facilities.” While I’m skeptical about the percentage of “renewables” that will be in that mix, NV Energy President Michael Yackira did come out with a good top-line quote on this issue:

“We firmly believe the plentiful sources of renewable energy — primarily solar, geothermal and wind — that either already exist or most certainly can be developed within our state make it imperative that we press forward on an expedited basis with transmission facilities so that Nevada and its citizens can benefit from these resources as soon as possible. The company has received numerous proposals for development of renewable energy in the state and has begun investing in renewable energy projects on its own. NV Energy further expects renewable energy projects to continue in the state for years to come. Because of this, we will request the PUCN to evaluate the transmission line separate from the Ely facility so that the line can be placed into operation no later than 2012.”

The Sierra club has also been lobbying to get geothermal into the mix. Not a bad idea, since the Western Governor’s Association estimated that Nevada could build over 1,400 megawatts within the next 6 years, and roughly double that by 2020.


Maybe they could also take advantage of some of that famed southwest sunshine and put in 1,300 megawatts of solar, just like their neighbor California is doing.

It seems like the power generation industry is starting to see the writing on the wall — that without CCS there is no future for coal. Unfortunately for coal, CCS technology is simply not there, and won’t be anytime soon. According to Cambridge Energy Research Associates, “an “aggressive” case would show CCS applied to just 55 gigawatts of coal-fired generation by 2030. For reference, the current total US coal generation capacity is 320 gigawatts.

CERA’s analysis also said that even with a carbon price of $100 per ton, the coal industry could only afford to make a 60% reduction in emissions by 2030.

— Sean P.

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