By Steven E. Winberg, Former Assistant Secretary for DOE, Office of Fossil Energy and Chair & CEO, Net-Negative CO2 Baseload Power, Inc.
January 11, 2022 - As we go into the new year, there are even more compelling reasons to bring coal into the public policy debate. Energy prices have skyrocketed around the world, rolling blackouts are frequently discussed as the new norm, and now there are riots in Kazakhstan over high energy prices, with troops being ordered to “kill without warning”. In the U.S., gasoline prices remain high; Texas and California have recently seen major disruptions in their electricity supply linked to systemic infrastructure issues; and natural gas prices have steeply increased. Due to high energy prices and low electricity reserves, coal saw a remarkable comeback in 2021 that will likely continue into 2022. However, as the world clamors to keep the lights on, and do so at reasonable cost, climate change concerns are causing many to turn their back on coal. We can reconcile the world’s thirst for affordable, reliable energy, and address environmental concerns, with Net-Negative CO2 Coal Technology. Net-Negative CO2 Coal Technology involves retrofitting existing coal plants with CCUS (carbon capture, storage and utilization) and using a coal/biomass blend as fuel. This converts existing coal plants, which are otherwise CO2 emitters and frequently targeted for premature retirement, into coal plants with net-negative CO2 emissions.
In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal (January 8, 2022), there is a major story on the California need for “firm power” and that CO2 -neutral nuclear power could meet this need. The story identifies a recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund and Clean Air Task Force concluding that California needs not just ‘’clean energy’’, but also “firm energy” or electricity sources that “don’t depend on the weather”. The same discussion on the need for “firm power” should include Net-Negative CO2 Coal Plants. With an existing fleet of western U.S. coal plants standing ready to supply firm power into California and other markets, these plants could be retrofitted with technology to address concerns about their CO2 emissions. Using the coal fleet’s existing infrastructure in this way is a far better solution than premature retirement of these plants and building new nuclear infrastructure from scratch. Solution-focused environmentalists should consider this pragmatic approach to address “firm power” needs and CO2 emission concerns.
In 2008, coal consumption for electricity generation in the United States peaked at close to 1 billion tpy. Today, consumption levels are approximately half of that. With the drop in consumption, and thus production, coal states have seen significant job losses, and the reliability of the nation’s electricity grid has become compromised due to insufficient firm baseload power. The nation does not need to lose the energy and economic benefits of the remaining coal fleet through premature retirements. There is a better path forward that can ensure firm baseload power while addressing climate change concerns. This should be part of the ongoing policy discussions in Congress and in the States.
The first step is to establish an incentive-based (not regulatory-based) federal program to retrofit the existing coal fleet to use a coal/biomass blend as fuel and install CCUS (carbon, capture, utilization and storage). Existing transmission lines, transformers and other power infrastructure can continue to provide our nation with affordable electricity. One significant additional benefit, while perhaps ironic, is that these net-negative CO2 coal plants will help the Biden Administration meet its aggressive climate targets.
The federal incentives envisioned include:
--grants for plant-specific engineering and economic studies
--federal cost-sharing for retrofitting an initial tranche of plants
--investment and production tax credits
--45Q tax credits as applies to CO2 utilization and storage
The PowerPoint here outlines these actions and the value that will accrue to American taxpayers.
One final thought. Much of the discussion around climate change centers around electricity production but reducing CO2 emissions in the transportation and industrial sectors is equally, and perhaps more, important to meet climate goals. Reducing the CO2 emissions from these sectors will require substantial electrification, thereby increasing electricity demand, and require alternative fuels such as hydrogen. Increased electricity demand and hydrogen production can be serviced by coal. Net-Negative technologies can be used to produce hydrogen and do so with net-negative CO2 emissions—a powerful solution for our future.