Clean coal key to U.S. energy future
Whether it’s unstable gasoline prices due to tensions in the Middle East, electricity shortages in California or a volatile natural gas market, these recent trends and others point to the need for a coherent, national energy policy in America.
Few economic activities are as critical to our nation’s prosperity and security as energy production. In fact, almost everything we do requires energy, as electricity is the most consumed commodity (in dollar amounts) in the United States next to food. And, although we have a national agricultural policy, we are still waiting for Congress to pass a national energy policy that ensures Americans will continue to have the energy we need to remain strong, competitive and prosperous well into the future.
Government projections show demand for electricity will increase 34 percent by 2020, making it essential that Congress pass a comprehensive energy bill that balances our growing demand for electricity with the need to protect our environment.
Before matters are allowed to get out of hand, Congress must finish work on H.R. 4 – the comprehensive energy bill -before adjourning this year. The coming of winter and tensions overseas do not afford us the luxury of time.
Since electricity from coal is our most abundant and affordable energy source, it is vital that the energy bill keep coal part of our nation’s energy mix and include provisions and tax incentives for clean coal technology development.
Technological advances have dramatically reduced coal-based power emissions over the years. In Colorado from 1989 to 1998, “total criteria air pollutants” (those pollutants affecting human health) decreased by 16 percent despite a 20 percent increase in population, a 63 percent increase in Gross State Product and a 21 percent increase in electricity generation. Meanwhile, Denver is the first major American city to be removed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “dirty air” list.
In addition, Colorado’s electricity rates remain among the cheapest in the nation, thanks in large part to the fact that more than 80 percent of our electricity comes from Rocky Mountain coal, much of it here in Northwest Colorado. Colorado is living proof that we can have clean air, as well as an abundant and affordable supply of electricity from coal.
Clean coal technologies have advanced to the point where engineers and energy experts estimate that by the year 2020, we will be able to produce emission-free electricity from coal. With a 250-year domestic supply, we would be foolish to overlook coal or – as some are trying to do – remove it entirely from our nation’s energy mix.
The cleanest demonstration projects using clean coal technology turn coal into a gas, and then filter out impurities before the gas is burned to generate electricity. During this process, approximately 95 percent of the sulfur pollutants are extracted and then recycled into commercially valuable products. Once cleaned, the coal gases are burned in a gas turbine, and then the turbine’s exhaust is used to boil water for a conventional steam turbine-generator. The combination of gas and steam turbines increases the plant’s efficiency. Higher efficiencies mean that fuel is conserved, greenhouse gases are reduced, and consumers see lower electricity costs.
Rather than impose stringent and costly regulations on coal-based electricity plants through the energy bill, Congress should be encouraging the development of clean coal technologies through tax incentives and accelerated research and commercialization.
Congress and the country as a whole must work toward a national energy policy that strikes the proper balance between protecting our environment and providing for continued economic growth and prosperity for America’s working families, businesses and cutting-edge industries. Electricity from coal will be essential to any such forward-looking energy policy.
Jim Evans is the executive director of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.
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