Thursday, January 17, 2008

Environmentalists Wage Legal War Against Coal

The Austin American-Statesman reported in a recent article that environmentalists are raising a red flag to the construction of dozens of new coal power plants across the country. Supposedly, construction of coal plants is booming right now, and environmentalists are disgusted at the prospect of such polluters going online in the near future. Collectively, nearly 50 plants in 29 states are being contested. Supporters on both sides of the issue are pouring money into their respective efforts to either save the atmosphere from greenhouse gases or save the U.S. population from experiencing electricity outages.

Currently, coal provides over half of the nation’s power needs while contributing approximately one third of the country’s carbon dioxide tonnage. Although coal plants are heavy polluters, ways exist to cut back their emissions. The article points out that environmentalists are not a discriminating bunch, so every new coal plant is seen as a carbon dioxide monster. Such behavior shows a lack of cooperation (and communication) among opposing sides of this issue.

Yet another point that stood out was the promotion of coal in the name of national security. Coal is a domestic resource, and supporters claim that dependence on foreign fuel decreases with the construction of plants which burn it. Only a small percentage of foreign oil is used for power plants, as Dr. Webber mentioned, so this statement is nonsensical.

Additionally, this article made me realize that, although energy is at the forefront of this country’s pressing issues, the focus is on producing more energy rather than transmitting it. Although the construction of new power plants will help meet rising energy demand, how will the power grid deliver this extra electricity? Superconducting wires are currently being integrated into the northeastern U.S. power grid, but heightened efforts in updating transmission infrastructure would not hurt.

1 comment:

PiersW. said...

The majority of America's coal (probably 700m of the annual 1b tons) comes from Wyoming, in particular the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming.
In the region, only one small coal power plant exists (annual fuel requirement of roughly 5-7m tons). The remainder of the Basin's coal is shipped via train, 131 cars at a time, to the TVA, Ohio Valley, East Coast, etc.

Additionally, the Powder River Basin's reserves extend significantly into Montana, which subsequently has been minimally developed because of lack of rail infrastructure.

With respect to today's lecture regarding efficiency:

Is transporting coal by train more efficeint than transporting electricity by transmissions lines? Ultimately, the electricity ends up on the same grid regardless of where it is produced.

Why do we not see proposed coal plants in rural Wyoming? Capital expenses for new plants are high but a large percentage of the cost of coal results from transportation expenses (passed from the mining companies, through the railroad, to the utility). Building a plant without fuel transportation costs ensures a dominant position in the market.

Do physical limitations for transmission lines exist which require their situation near population centers?