Articals of interest to the coal industry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Crowd upset with envio's and bureaucrats,0,2914697.story?coll=la-home-center

Crowd aims fury at regional panel
Land use agency is criticized for failing to allow adequate clearing of combustible materials.

By Eric Bailey and J. Michael Kennedy, Times Staff WritersJune 26, 2007
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The mood of the crowd jammed into the meeting room was angry.Many had lost their homes to the forest fire that swept through the Sierra Nevada just south of Lake Tahoe.They said they were angry at bureaucrats and environmentalists who made cutting of trees and clearing of land difficult. There was always too much red tape, they said, and now it was too late.In all, a crowd of nearly 2,000 people descended on the South Tahoe Middle School auditorium Monday night, wanting to be heard in the face of their losses.And if there was an object of scorn in the crowd, it was the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a powerful bi-state environmental land use agency charged with managing the resources of the basin.When a speaker mentioned the agency, the crowd responded with a chorus of boos. "What a joke!" yelled one man. The wrangling began in earnest over the assignment of blame, including arguments over whether federal and state forest managers had made their tree clearing rules too strict in the face of pressure by environmentalists. A common sentiment Monday was expressed by Jerry Martin, a bartender at the Horizon Casino Resort, whose house was still standing, although eight others around it had burned to the ground. He said U.S. Forest Service rules regulating the harvesting of dead trees were too stringent for those living next to government land."I hate to get political, but environmentalists wouldn't let us cut down the dead trees," he said.The amount of fuel in the Tahoe Basin has reached critical levels after years of discord among environmentalists and government agencies over how to thin forests and reduce the fire threat. And it has led to predictions of a devastating wildfire because the basin is one of the areas with the most fire starts in the Sierra Nevada.More than 21,000 acres of Tahoe land have been cleared to guard against wildfires, at a cost of $50 million, but an additional 67,000 acres need to be cleared and thinned."It's like painting the Golden Gate Bridge," said Julie Regan, a spokeswoman for the regional planning agency. "Once you're finished at one end it's time to start again on the other."In April, the U.S. Forest Service finally settled on a 10-year plan to thin and burn 38,000 acres of land to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. But the plan had little effect on the homes in the community of Meyers, where most of Sunday's fire damage occurred. Regan said only 462 acres within the Angora fire boundary had been treated for fuel reduction because it was low on the priority list. Sgt. Don Atkinson of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department said heavy growth in the area, especially manzanita plants, contributed to the danger. He said fire officials request that underbrush be cleared at least 30 feet from residences."Sometimes people do it and sometimes people don't," he said. "There's a lot of residences where manzanita grows right up to the house, and that's unfortunate. It's very flammable and it's got oils and stuff in it that really tend to drive a fire."But the people at the meeting Monday said that regional planning agency regulations were the source of much of the problem when it came to clearing the land.A man got up and said, "I've lived here 35 years. Is this going to open TRPA's eyes?" The room erupted into cheers and applause.Regan said that of the 1,300 parcels in the neighborhood that sustained the most damage, only 274 were new or remodeled — and therefore more likely to have cleared "defensible space." "The majority of homes in Lake Tahoe have not completed defensible space," she said.She also said part of the reason may be that residents don't realize that no permit is necessary to cut down dead trees on private property."It's important to relay the message that homeowners can cut a tree down without a permit," she said. "If they want to cut down trees, all they have to do is call their fire districts," she said.Lauri Kemper of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board said most people in the basin are reluctant to clear out trees. "I've lived here for 22 years and folks like their trees," she said. "They like it for the habitat and the beauty they create."
eric.bailey@latimes.commichael.kennedy@latimes.comBailey reported from South Lake Tahoe, Kennedy from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Lee Romney and the Associated Press contributed to this report

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Every thing you want to know about coal is in this artical!

The Daily Star
Vol. 5 Num 1088
Sat. June 23, 2007

Coal -- the energy resource for 21st centuryDr. Rafiqul IslamWorld's population is expected to reach over 8 billion by 2030, from its current level of 6.4 billion and consequently global energy demand will grow by almost 60 percent by 2030 and rise to 16.5 billion tones of oil equivalent per year.
Fossil fuels and in particular coal will meet up this challenge in future. Nuclear energy though provides a significant proportion of energy in some countries, but in general it faces serious public opposition.
Renewable energies are growing fast, but make up only a small part of global energy production -- the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2030 only 14 percent of total energy demand will be met from renewable sources. In fact its not wise to depend on a single source of energy.
Coal can play a unique role in meeting the demand for a secure energy supply. Coal is globally most abundant and economical as well of all fossil fuels, which can be used for both power generation and industrial applications.
The production and utilization of coal is based on well-proven and widely used technologies. Coal faces environmental challenges. However, research efforts into improving the efficiency of coal fired electricity generation and technologies for carbon capture and storage offer routes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Coal reserves are significantly more abundant and much more widely and evenly dispersed than other fossil fuels.
The top five coal producing countries are: China, US, India, Australia and South Africa. All these countries use their indigenous coal as the primary fuel for electricity generation and all except India have a sizeable coal export market.
The world currently consumes over 5500 million tones of coal for use in power generation, steel production, cement manufacture, as a chemical feedstock and as a liquid fuel (IEA, 2005a).
Where there is a forecast of depletion in the supply of oil and gas in next 50 years coal may serve the purpose for next 150 years or more and by then new and renewable sources of energy will find wide market.
Coal can be converted to liquid and gaseous fuels to substitute for oil and ultimately to less depend on imported oil -- South Africa has a well-established coal-to-liquids industry, and China is currently adopting this technology.
China wants to cut down its oil import dependence by building a commercial scale direct coal liquefaction plant in Inner Mongolia, which will produce around 50,000 barrels a day of finished gasoline and diesel fuel.
Overall costs for coal-based power stations are usually lower than from other sources and utilization of coal for electricity generation should be a key choice. At present almost 40 percent of global electricity generation is based on coal (IEA, 2005b). The generation technologies are well established.
Not only the developing nations but developed nations also face power crisis and the solutions for that has been recognized as utilisation of more coal in power plants.
Renewable energy can reduce dependency on finite energy sources and remove some of the risk on oil import dependence.
Hydropower provides many countries with a substantial amount of their electricity needs; however, when weather conditions deviate from normal, severe problems such as the blackouts experienced in Brazil and New Zealand can occur.
New Zealand's crises in 1998, 2001 and 2003 occurred as a result of an over dependency on a single energy source -- hydro power. There has been now a four-fold increase in coal fired electricity generation (IEA, 2005b).
In California due to severe energy crisis in 2000-2001 a 1300-mile transmission system to generate 12000 MW of electricity -- 6000 MW from coal fired gasification (IGCC) plants and 6000 MW from wind power -- has been in plan.
In September 2003 Italy suffered a nationwide blackout, which had an impact on its total population of 57 million people. Much of Italy's electricity is imported. The bulk of Italy's own generation is from oil-fired power stations.
Due to the increasing cost of oil and a need for new and diversified power generation, many of these stations are being converted to gas or coal fired plants. Enel, Italy's largest generator, aims to double its coal fired capacity to over 10,000 MW, or 50 percent of its generating portfolio. The Italian government has also eased regulations on building new power plants and sought to encourage greater investment in the electricity sector.
In Bangladesh the only commercial energy resource that mainly supports power generation in the country at present is natural gas. About 70 percent of power generation depends on natural gas.
As per the forecast of Petrobangla, the total remaining gas reserve would meet the country's projected energy demand upto 2015. So discovery of additional gas fields or alternative sources of fuel could meet up this challenge. Coal discoveries of the north-western part of the country, with its total estimated mineable reserves of 1400 Mt (which is approximately 37 Tcf of natural gas in terms of heat value) seemed to have solved this problem.
Considering that many countries in the world have between 40 percent to 60 percent of their electricity generation using coal, Government of Bangladesh should take prompt action for a rapid increase in generation of coal fired electricity, which will ultimately have the effect of enhancing the energy security of the country.
Future power plants in the country may be set up on dual fuel system using coal and gas for the sake of better energy security. This would save and conserve Bangladesh's reserve of natural gas, and prevent the dependence on oil import for power generation.
Coal production should be at such a rate that its availability in the country for a period of at least 50 years can be confirmed.
China, manufacture small-scale power plants in the range 3 to 5 MW operating on coal, and these technologies can also be promoted in our country for electricity supply in remote and rural areas.
It is important to understand the environmental impacts of mining, processing, and utilization of coal.
The choice of mining method is largely determined by the geology of the coal deposit. Underground mining currently accounts for about 60 percent of world coal production, although surface mining is more common in several important coal producing countries like in Australia where it accounts for about 80 percent, in the US 67 percent. In India also surface mining is given importance. Surface mining or opencast mining is only economic when coal seam is near the surface.
Opencast mines damage a large land surface area, displace people from their ancestral homesteads and cause agricultural losses. But the method is cost effective, recovery is high around 90 percent, comparatively better in safety aspects and is considered to be a modern method.
Surface mining requires large areas of land to be temporarily disturbed. This raises a number of environmental challenges, including soil erosion, dust, noise and water pollution, and impacts on local biodiversity. But modern technology considerably reduces these problems. The idea is to select proper technology.
Mine subsidence can be a problem with underground coal mining, whereby the ground level lowers as a result of coal having been mined beneath. Steps are taken in modern mining operations to minimise these impacts. Good planning and environmental management minimises the impact of mining on the environment and helps to preserve biodiversity. Computer simulations can be undertaken to model impacts on the local environment. The findings are then reviewed as part of the process leading to the award of a mining permit by the relevant government authorities.
Whether coal is to be extracted by Opencast or by Underground methods of mining the selected method is to acknowledge the need to reduce environmental impact and to provide security of supply, deliver environmental and social goals and promote competitive energy markets.
Environmental issues related to coal processing include water quality issues such as acidic drainage, slurry impoundment discharges, physical disturbances, and gob fires.
The environmental impacts of coal use, mostly for electric power, include harmful emissions and solid waste disposal. Emissions of concern include sulfur and nitrogen oxides that lead to acid rain; particulate matter that causes haze; mercury and its health impacts; and carbon dioxide as greenhouse gas and its potential to change climate.
Methane (CH4) is a gas formed as part of the process of coal formation. It is released from the coal seam during mining operations. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Methane from coal seams can be utilised rather than released to the atmosphere.

Dr. Rafiqul Islam is Professor, Dept. of Applied Chemistry & Chemical Technology, Dhaka University.

Wise Co. power plant focus of protest

Planned Wise County, Va., coal-fired power plant will be focus of Monday protest

Saturday, Jun 23, 2007 - 01:45 AM

By Amy Hunter
A parcel of land in Southwest Virginia has become the focus of a statewide debate, and on Monday protesters will take their message to Richmond – No new power plant in Wise County.
Up to 200 people are expected to gather in front of Dominion Power’s Richmond headquarters on Monday to protest construction of a coal-fired plant in Wise County they say would pollute the community and do more harm than good.
But Dominion officials maintain the plant’s benefits outweigh its negatives.
"It will create hundreds of jobs," said Dan Genest, Dominion spokesman.
Protest organizer Hannah Morgan, and fellow protesters, want Dominion to take the estimated $1 billion allocated for the plant and invest it in conservation efforts and renewable energy.
Mike Ewall, founder of Energy Justice, a national organization that works with communities under threat of pollution, said the biggest problem is the burning of waste coal.
"It’s a mixture of coal and rock that you have to burn a lot more of to generate the same amount of energy of regular coal," he said. "And it creates a lot of ash that has to be dumped somewhere."
The ash, Ewall said, can seep into the ground with rain and contaminate ground water. Plus, burning waste-coal increases greenhouse pollution and emit PAH’s, a category of chemicals that cause cancer.
"Companies use it because its cheaper," he said.
Genest said the company is aware global warming is an important issue, but because coal-burning accounts for 50 percent of U.S. energy needs, coal-fired plants will be a nationwide necessity for decades.
"You can’t do it all through conservation and renewable energy," said Genest.
He said the Wise County plant will use clean coal technology that helps reduce pollution.
"It’s a new generation of power plant. It’s like comparing an Oldsmobile to a hybrid today."
Genest said Dominion is working with researchers at Virginia Tech to find cleaner ways to meet the state’s energy needs, while using the best clean-coal technology available today.
Despite contentious disagreement on both sides, they do agree on one thing – Power plants create jobs, and job creation is a boon for the economy. (276) 645-2531

I must state for the record that 199 of the 200 protesters are misguided rich kids from up north who have no idea where their power comes from. "Shave the whales"...see I was young once and all mixed up... er I mean "save the whales". Its been a few years since my college days trying to save the world so I have to think about what allI was against. They just protest long enough to get their picture taken then they jump back in their BMW's and feel great about themselves. The understand how the press works to some extent but ignore the facts about energy use in America as well as their own use of 33 pounds of coal a day required to keep those printers running for their mis-guided flyer's.

90% of carbon dioxide can be removed!

E.ON to build pilot plant for CO2 capture
The method is currently being developed by Alstom, the power generation specialist.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

E.ON will be testing a new process in Sweden that can be used to remove up to 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plant flue gases.
The method is currently being developed by Alstom, the power generation specialist. E.ON and Alstom have now agreed to continue developing the technology at E.ON’s power plant at Karlshamn to a stage where it can be used in the actual environment of a power plant. The pilot plant at Karlshamn is to start trial operation in early 2008.
"For E.ON, carbon dioxide capture from power plants is one of the key technologies in tackling the global climate change problem. This is why E.ON is pushing the development of different processes in all markets as part of its technology initiative. In its quest for the best technology, the company is investigating various solutions in a number of parallel projects," the company said.
The method to be used at Karlshamn is based on the technology that involves the use of ammonia to capture the carbon dioxide. The key advantage is that this cleaning process uses less energy than other CO2 removal processes, so its impact on the overall efficiency of the power plant is relatively low. Experts expect the first almost CO2-free commercial power plants to come on line in 15 to 20 years.
As part of a carbon capture and storage initiative, efforts are currently underway worldwide to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the flue gases of power plants for safe storage. Three technologies are under development: Pre-combustion capture, Post-combustion capture and Oxyfuel technology.
The pre-combustion involves the use of a gasification process to convert the coal into a fuel gas which is stripped of its CO2 before combustion in a combined-cycle power plant to produce electricity.
In the post-combustion capture CO2 is removed from the flue gas stream by solvent washing, whereas the Oxyfuel process uses pure oxygen instead of air for the combustion of coal or natural gas, so the flue gases produced consist mainly of CO2 and water, which makes CO2 removal relatively easy.
EnerPub provides premium global energy news and analysis, "the news that moves the world."

Failure to set up Coal Power Plants in time as planned by the experts also caused severe damage to the economy of the country.

Failure to set up Coal Power Plants in time as planned by the experts also caused severe damage to the economy of the country.

Could this happen here? YOU BET.

The Sunday Times / On line
Financial Times

Major reasons for Lanka’s debacle
(Joint press release issued by the Chairman of the Joint Business Forum (JBIZ), Nimal Perera)
Until the late 1950s Sri Lanka had been an economically sound, self-sufficient country in Asia. Having fought together to gain independence, every community lived in harmony until the new language policy was introduced. It was a known fact that our country was looked at as a model by countries like Singapore to develop theirs in that era. Further to that our country was proud to have had one of the best-managed Railway systems and also the Public Service in the world. We did not have an Executive President, a large Cabinet and Provincial Councils at that time. The country was well governed by the House of Representatives comprised of high caliber personalities headed by the Prime minister. They were well supported by equally efficient and well-respected Government Agents. They never meddled with the law of the country. It looks like that the changes done subsequently to the Administrative and Legislative Structures and constitution had not been beneficial to the country. The situation now is in a highly deteriorated state in every aspect. We give below the Per Capita Income of two Asian countries and Sri Lanka for 1960 and 2006 just to indicate at what pace our country has moved.
What has gone wrong? Many accept that the war, high cost power generation, the language policy, preferential voting system, corruption and waste and deterioration of the law and order situation have caused the downfall of our country.
What has gone wrong? Many accept that the war, high cost power generation, the language policy, preferential voting system, corruption and waste and deterioration of the law and order situation have caused the downfall of our country.
WarThe 24-year-old war has done the biggest damage to the country both socially and economically. Every leader in power has vowed that terrorism would be crushed militarily. Military assistance from India was also obtained and now 24 years have gone by, more than 50,000 people have lost their lives, more than 100,000 people have got disabled, more than 500 billion rupees have gone down the drain and billions worth of properties have got destroyed. These still continue and our lives have become more and more miserable and uncertain. Although the leaders were always in favour of a negotiated settlement, they always succumb to the terrorist’s tactics of provocation. The war situation has also created room for the deserters and arms and ammunitions to move freely through out the country resulting in escalation of violence and crime. The sufferings the citizens have to go through, the battering the economy get, the destruction of property and moreover the loss of human lives should come to an end immediately if the country is to prosper. Budget approval for defense expenditure for the year 2007 was Rs 100 billion where as in a no war situation it should have been around Rs 30 billion. If the peace prevails, the country could easily save at least Rs 70 billion annually. This would enable the government to reduce the excessive taxes and other levies and thereby lower the COL. Had the billions of rupees spent on war utilized for the development process, by now the country would have had many new highways, many flyovers in major cities, many power plants and an highly improved transport system making the life of the people comfortable.
Expensive power generation Failure to set up Coal Power Plants in time as planned by the experts also caused severe damage to the economy of the country. Ironically our decision makers went for the most expensive method of power generating using expensive fuel when other developed and affluent countries resort to low cost methods. As a result of high cost of power many industrial ventures struggled to survive and some collapsed as they became uncompetitive. This has also become a big burden to the country’s economy as the country's biggest expenditure is for purchase of fuel which is being used mainly for power generation. Last year alone the country has spent Rs 220 billion to import petroleum products out of which around 70% totalling Rs 154 billion have been for power generation. Had the proposed coal power plants been set up in time as per the plans, the country could have easily saved more than Rs 100 billion spent on fuel annually. These wasted funds during past many years could have been utilized to reduce the burden on the economy. It is commendable that the government has already made arrangements to commence the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant and Kotmale hydro power project. What is important now is to fast track these projects and to take immediate action to set up the other plants in the locations already earmarked in Trincomalee and Hambanthota.
Language Policy It is a known fact that India is fast growing because of the IT and BPO Industry. With the growth of the IT Industry many cities like Chennai and Bangalore also developed. The secret behind the success of this industry is the high standard of English. After gaining independence the Indian leaders, continued to maintain the English standards without compromising the international medium of expression for pseudo nationalism. English is also an official language there. The level of English standard and English pronunciation in our country was of a much higher standard than our neighboring countries. In the good old days even a lower level employee in a government organization could converse in English. But leaders of our country for short term political gain neglected the English education and introduced a new language policy in late 50s. Poor rural youth suffered from this new policy as they were deprived of the English education making them unemployable mainly in the private sector. This compelled them to seek employment in the state sector using political influence and this was one of the reasons why state institutions are over staffed, politicized and have become less productive and unviable.
Preferential voting systemAnother major reason for the debacle of the country is the present preferential voting system. This system is not benefiting the country or its people. This system has paved the way for many unsuitable candidates to come into the parliament. They have lowered the status of the Parliament from a standard of a supreme, sacred place to the standard of a fish market. This electoral system has only increased the government expenditure (225 MPs for about 140 electorates). They interfere with the law and order enforcement in the country, functions of the Police and other government institutions and protect the criminals thus increasing the crime rate and corruption. These unprincipalled politicians prevent high calibre people in the public sector to perform impartially. They are the main root cause for deterioration of the discipline in the country, collapse of the important government institutions and downturn of the economy. They are also responsible for the destruction of the environment such as cutting down the forests, filling up of marshy lands, etc.
Dishonest and incapable politicians who get rejected from the electorate for not serving the people could still get into the parliament with this preferential voting system. Our country could afford only a lean parliament and a lean cabinet. If this happens many issues will get solved considerably.
Another white elephant in the present system is the Provincial Councils. It duplicates many functions, incurs heavy expenditure and has become a burden to the country’s economy. Income generated by provincial councils in 2006 was Rs 19.5 billion and the expenditure was estimated to be Rs 94.5 billion! It would be more beneficial to the country if the state of District Secretary (Government Agent) level is strengthened by way of giving them more authority, sending them for management training and provide better remuneration.
Corruption and wasteEveryday there are allegations by the citizens and the COPE report reveals many instances of corruptions within political circles from local authority level upwards and also in many state institutions. This is also a major reason for the downturn in the economy as the amounts involved are estimated to be large enough to make a huge adverse impact. Further substantial amounts of funds are getting wasted as the inefficient politicians are not very much concerned about the public funds. The amounts wasted on abandoned partially built roadways (such as Airport expressway), government buildings, abandoned CTB buses, railway compartments and other vehicles in government organizations including in ministries are colossal and values once again should be in billions of rupees. Sadly none is responsible. The general practice (of ruling party politicians) is to always blame the previous regime for the deficits but those in power continuous with the same mistakes.
Law and order situationThe law and order situation of the country has hit the rock bottom with the escalation of abductions, brutal killings and extortions and the irony is that most of these are happening in highly secured city. When many vehicles are being stopped two three times at the security check points, its baffling how the abductors are always getting away. The Police Department has become highly ineffective due to politicization. These are the end results of preferential voting system and the protracted war in the country.
LeadershipThe leader of a country should be brave enough to take correct decisions and bring about the necessary changes and may call for a referendum if necessary, in order to put the country on the right track. Short term he may become unpopular mainly within political circles but in the longer term he would be worshipped by the masses. It is high time that all stakeholders look hard at the current situation and unite to urge the leadership to take corrective measures. We also should urge the leaders of the political parties to select respectable people from the electorates who are educated and capable enough to govern a country. There are many capable personalities within the country who are willing to assist and facilitate in finding solutions to country’s woes if they are called upon to do so like in South Africa and Ireland.

Rate hike for power plants

Charleston Gazette

June, 2007
Power plants allowed rate hike

On Friday the West Virginia Public Service Commission approved an $85.5 million rate increase for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power to continue the funding of scrubbers at Appalachian Power’s Mountaineer and John Amos plants.
With the 10 percent increase effective July 1, customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month will see their bills increase from $58.87 to $64.55.
The increase is part of a July 2006 order that allows the utility to annually adjust rates for the construction, fuel and purchase power costs. In total, rates will increase 16 percent by 2009.
Appalachian Power, a unit of American Electric Power, is spending more than $1.4 billion to build scrubbers to help reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to comply with federal and state clean-air laws.
The scrubber at the Mountaineer plant went online in early 2007, and the first scrubber at the John Amos plant will begin operation in 2008.
Of the $85.5 million increase, about $28.5 million will cover scrubber construction costs as well as costs of a transmission line from Wyoming County to Virginia. In addition, $54.8 million is for fuel costs and purchased power.
The PSC also approved an additional $2.2 million increase to help Appalachian Power fund the rehabilitation of four small electric utilities in McDowell County that the company will take over on July 1.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

coal carries on and keeps digging

Coal industry keeps digging as pressure rises over climate changeBy MATTHEW BROWN
WRIGHT, Wyo. - Every second of every day the oversized shovels of the Black Thunder mine claw another three tons of coal from the arid plains of eastern Wyoming.
Sprawled across 20,000 acres, Black Thunder produces more coal than any other mine in the Western Hemisphere. America's thirst for the fuel it provides is larger still: more than 1.1 billion tons consumed in 2006, or almost four tons per person.
But after years of steady growth, spurred by the rising cost of coal's main competitor, natural gas, the industry faces an increasingly uncertain future.
Each ton of coal burned emits more than two tons of carbon dioxide, the prime contributor to global warming. Environmentalists and some policymakers are calling for the country to wean itself from coal by investing in wind, biofuels and other energies and levying new taxes on carbon emissions. In the interim, they want mandates for cleaner power plants.
Yet coal could prove a habit hard to break.
Companies like Arch Coal, the owner of Black Thunder, supply the fuel for more than half the country's electricity. And with the industry's backing, Capitol Hill lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., are pushing to recast coal's image _ from climate change culprit to promising "alternative fuel" that could ease dependence on foreign oil and possibly provide an exit plan for the global warming quandary.
Think of it as diet coal: A new wave of coal-fired power plants would capture carbon dioxide to prevent its release into the atmosphere. Other plants would use a process perfected by the Nazis to convert the black rock into diesel or jet fuel, to reduce imports of foreign oil.
Both technologies remain untested in the United States on a wide commercial scale. Thomas said that's why the government needs to step in and spur their development through loans to industry and a mandate for 21 billion gallons a year of coal-derived liquid fuels by 2022.
"We're going to be looking at new sources of energy and indeed we should be," said Thomas, whose state leads the nation in coal production. "What we need to be equally concerned with is what we're going to do now, for the next 15 years or so. Coal is one of the largest fossil fuel resources we have."
Thomas' efforts on behalf of industry stumbled in April, when his proposal was defeated on a party-line vote during a Senate Energy Committee debate over an ethanol bill. He plans to try again in June when the bill hits the Senate floor.
But a neighbor to the north, Democratic Sen. John Tester of Montana, is now saying coal should not expect a free ride. Tester said in a recent interview that any coal-to-liquids plant supported by federal dollars must include technology to capture and store carbon. The plants are projected to cost billions of dollars, making federal backing key to moving forward.
"They can do it with private backing if they want. But if they want public dollars they have to do carbon capture and sequestration. That has to be part of the conversation," Tester said.
Tester said he also wants coal-based fuels to be at least 20 percent cleaner than traditional petroleum fuels. Environmental groups say even then coal-to-liquids proposals are a distraction from the need to convert to more sustainable energy sources.
Still, from the vantage of the Black Thunder mine, it is hard to imagine coal's future dimming anytime soon.
Out of a gaping pit gouged deep into Wyoming's Powder River Basin, an endless procession of house-sized dump trucks haul away boulders of coal extracted from a 70-foot thick seam. From there, it is crushed into smaller chunks, loaded onto rail cars and shipped to power plants across the country.
The mine is one of more than a dozen along the eastern edge of the Powder River coal seam, which accounts for about 40 percent of the nation's coal production.
"In front of us are millions and millions and billions of tons of coal," said Arch Coal Vice President Greg Schaefer. "There is 200 years worth of coal here at present consumption. It's an incredible resource."
The Department of Energy forecasts coal's share of the energy market will increase to almost 60 percent over the next 25 years. Unless cleaner technologies are adopted to lower carbon emissions, that will spur an environmental "catastrophe," said David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet to replace 90 gigawatts of additional electricity _ the amount the Department of Energy says will come from 151 new or proposed coal power plants _ would require 60,000 wind turbines or 100 mid-sized nuclear plants.
"There's just nothing that comes in at the scale of coal over the foreseeable future," said James Bartis, a RAND Corporation researcher specializing in energy issues.
But Hawking said that argument should not be extended to coal-to-liquids, which he described as a worse polluter than conventional fuels. He said it would take up to 250 million tons of additional coal production every year to reach Thomas' 21 billion gallon annual mandate.
In the last three years, lobbying expenses by the coal industry more than tripled, from $2 million in 2004 to almost $7 million last year, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Much of the money has been funneled through Americans for Balanced Energy Choices and a related organization, the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED).
Until recently, one of CEED's main goals was to cast doubt on global warming and coal's contribution to the problem. As the science behind climate change has gained traction with policy makers and the public, that message has shifted, said CEED vice president Ned Leonard.
"We can't even get in the door to speak to a governor or a regulator if we're saying, 'First of all, we don't think this is even happening,'" Leonard said. "You can no longer get away with talking generically about voluntary action."
What that means for coal production, and the steady march of the Black Thunder Mine across eastern Wyoming, could be decided by Congress in coming weeks.
"Over the next 20 years, the question is not whether the industry will go down," said Bartis. "It's how much will it go up."
A service of the Associated Press(AP)

Air Force and Ky coal

Coal States See Boon in USAF Alt-Fuel Push

Coal dug from deep in Kentucky’s rugged mountains generates some $4 billion a year for the state’s economy, helping to lift it to the position of ninth-poorest among the 50 United States.
With 120 million tons mined in 2006, Kentucky coal production is down from its peak of 180 million tons in 1990. But a new customer for Kentucky coal could bring an economic boost to the beleaguered state.
And Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., thinks he has found that customer — the U.S. Air Force.
A Davis amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Act would give the Air Force $10 million to accelerate testing of jet fuel made from coal.
In 2006, the service tested coal-based synthetic fuel and ultimately flew a B-52 bomber on a blend of standard jet fuel and the coal-based liquid.
The Air Force plans to begin testing the fuel soon in a C-17 cargo plane, a service spokeswoman said.
Davis hopes that once the Air Force adopts coal-based jet fuel, so will commercial airlines. The potential benefits are broader than just more jobs and increased income for his home state.
“Kentucky has the unique opportunity to be part of the solution to our nation’s energy crisis by turning coal into liquid fuel,” the congressman said.
The Air Force may be essential to Kentucky’s success.
It will take billions of dollars to build a “coal-to-liquid” plant able to meet the Air Force’s fuel needs. It would cost many times that much to meet airline needs. No one is willing to make that investment unless there is an assured, profitable market for the synthetic fuel.
But no market will develop until there are plants turning out fuel.
Davis’ answer is the Air Force.
“The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of fuel in the United States and the Air Force consumes over 50 percent of the fuel used by the military,” he said.
Seeking Reliable Supply
The Air Force burns 2.6 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, said Paul Bollinger, special assistant to the service’s assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics. Ensuring that it has a reliable fuel supply is a key Air Force concern, he said.
The Air Force hopes to spend $38 million on synthetic fuel research and testing in 2008, but only $1 million was requested in the 2008. The remainder is an “unfunded priority,” Bollinger said. So the $10 million in Davis’ amendment is significant.
If the Air Force becomes a reliable synthetic fuel consumer, that could justify investment in coal-to-liquid plants, which could, in turn, “accelerate development of the technology and production capacity needed for large-scale commercial deployment of this type of alternative fuel,” Davis’ amendment says.
To push the Air Force further in that direction, Davis proposed a separate amendment permitting the service to sign purchasing contracts lasting as long as 25 years for buying coal-based fuel.
However, Davis withdrew that amendment after being told that House budgeting rules would count its cost as “mandatory spending” that would have to be offset by cutting an equal amount of money elsewhere in the budget. “We did not have an offset to offer,” a Davis aide said.
Davis isn’t alone in this endeavor.
In January, he and another coal-state congressman, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., introduced the Coal-to-Liquids Fuel Promotion Act of 2007.
The legislation would provide tax breaks and loan guarantees for building coal-to-liquid plants. That bill, which also contains coal-to-liquid research money for the Air Force and authority to sign 25-year fuel purchase contracts, awaits committee action.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Barak Obama, D-Ill. Illinois produced about 32 million tons of coal in 2005.
Environmental Concerns
Growing support for coal-to-liquid fuel is sparking alarm among environmentalists, who warn that the fuel and the process that makes it produce twice as much carbon dioxide as petroleum-based fuel. That makes coal-to-liquid — or CTL — disastrous for global warming, said Alice McKeown of the Sierra Club.
Using more coal also means more strip mining, which environmentalists say is destroying the landscape in Kentucky, West Virginia and elsewhere. And the CTL process consumes prodigious amounts of water.
“We think it’s misguided. It’s not really a smart solution for our energy future,” McKeown said. “We should not be using government money to jumpstart this industry.”
Other government action, such as increasing the mileage requirements on automobiles, would reduce petroleum consumption, which would be environmentally beneficial and make more fuel available to the Air Force, she said.
Bollinger said the Air Force is very conscious of the possible environmental impacts of producing liquid fuel from coal.
“Our secretary has stated from day one that we are going to be good environmental stewards,” he said. “I’ve done an extensive amount of work with other agencies that control and regulate these areas.”
The carbon dioxide produced by the CTL can be captured and sequestered — essentially buried deep underground. Coal can be mixed with biomass to reduce the net CO2 output of the process and mining can be done in environmentally benign ways, he said.
Davis, too, says he is “committed to ensuring the environmental integrity of these fuels and have advocated that any future fuels produced from coal are as good or better than the environmental footprint of the fuels they are designed to replace.”
But the matters of national security and the economy cannot be disregarded, he said. The nation cannot afford to ignore the potential of coal, considering the absence of viable alternatives, he said. •

Save the birds

Bill aims to curb wind farms to spare birds
House panel chairman wants to protect flying wildlife from giant turbines
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Birds and bats have a powerful advocate in the new Congress, and he is making the wind energy industry nervous.Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is pushing legislation that would more strictly regulate wind energy to protect birds, bats and other wildlife killed when they fly into the giant turbines.Wind energy advocates say the bill could significantly cripple the burgeoning industry and they brand the measure as “anti-wind.”A release from the American Wind Energy Association last month said Rahall’s plan could “essentially outlaw” the generation of electricity from new wind power plants in the United States.Political debate over wind projects has intensified as the industry has seen major growth in recent years. According to the association, wind power is growing 25 percent to 30 percent annually.Congress has encouraged this renewable energy as oil prices have skyrocketed, creating incentives for the industry and promoting its benefits. But some lawmakers are concerned about the effects on wildlife.Rahall’s proposal, included in a larger energy bill, would direct the Fish and Wildlife Service to publish standards for siting, construction and monitoring of wind projects so that they do not harm wildlife. Violators could go to prison.After opposition from some members of his committee, Rahall has said he will revisit the legislation. The wind provisions are “not locked in stone,” he said.Still, Rahall, D-W.Va., believes more regulation would be a good idea.“I suspect that wind projects are on a regular basis in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, yet no enforcement action is being taken,” he said at a recent hearing on the issue.Frank Maisano, a spokesman for wind developers in the Mid-Atlantic region, says the industry has frequent discussions with government regulators and environmental groups.Rahall “is throwing out the entire haystack because there’s a needle in there somewhere,” he said. “There are plenty of checks on the system that are making us develop in a smart way.”Some in coal-rich West Virginia disagree.John Stroud, the co-chairman of Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, is fighting a wind power project in Rahall’s district, saying it will spoil scenic views and endanger bats.“Something like this is greatly necessary because these concerns are generally ignored,” Stroud says. “Most states don’t have much regulation.”John Kostyack, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, says his group is working with Rahall to fine-tune the legislation.“We think that any energy company, even in an industry we strongly support, needs to grow responsibly,” he said,Last month, a National Research Council panel said the risk to birds and bats is not yet completely understood. That report also noted that wind farms could generate up to 7 percent of U.S. electricity in 15 years.It is unclear if Rahall’s position could pass muster in the Senate.A spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the senator is supportive of the industry and will remain so.GOP Sen. John Thune, who has introduced legislation that would give the industry more incentives, was more blunt.“This proposal is badly misguided and is a step in the wrong direction,” said Thune of South Dakota, one of the windier states. “Congress should not be blocking the development of one of the nation’s cleanest energy resources ... I will fight any efforts to stymie its development because of unfounded concerns for bats and birds.”

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