The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is on the increase and that urgency can be seen in the way power companies are designing their future plants.
The need for more clean coal generation is apparent because, current coal technology cannot deliver the clean emissions levels that plants like the Diablo Canyon or the Flathead can deliver.
They are the first plants built to state-mandated carbon emission standards in the U.S. and they will be the last. While current technology cannot meet the standard, clean coal technologies can.
Clean coal is not the same as clean coal-bleaching. The former does not involve scrubbing chemicals or retrofitting coal burning plants with carbon capture and sequestration equipment. That technology is still in its early days. Clean coal does involve cleaning coal with water and various chemicals that have anti-pollution attributes. Clean coal is also about reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxides. But unlike the ozone depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbon, the clean coal chemicals are free of objectionable side effects such as acid rain and smog.
In terms of cost, clean coal is a good fit because, as mentioned, it is much cleaner than coal and can deliver significant emissions reductions compared to older plants. The technology is generally simpler as well.
It’s interesting to note that, if the Diablo Canyon is a success, several other plants might be built in the near future by power companies that recognize the need to deliver substantial emissions reductions. These plants would also have low carbon emissions and be attractive to investors.
The cost of clean coal would be competitive with dirty coal and cleaner than brown coal. In fact, it’s expected that clean coal could become the new brown coal.
But the technology is not yet at a point where it is economical to create many power plants using it. The technology is still too expensive. The price of the carbon capture and sequestration equipment is just about too high. And the reliability of clean coal is not yet good enough.
But if the technology improves, it should become competitive with dirty coal. And it should become competitive with natural gas fired plants. That would be great for the environment.
As clean coal becomes more efficient, more companies could make money on it. That would be great for the environment.
If you doubt the seriousness of the current commitment to clean coal, just compare the rhetoric of the White House and the reality of California’s Global Warming Policy Act (Cap and Trade). The rhetoric is almost comicaltic in its silliness. I would compare it to a movie trailer. But you can’t make this stuff up. And it’s not going to work.