Former Vice President Al Gore should have used this month’s “24 Hours of Reality” internet broadcast to encourage the Trump administration to withdraw all carbon-dioxide emission rules on future power stations. Then the United States could replace its old, inefficient coal-fired power plants with modern, clean, efficient coal stations, just as they are doing in Europe, India and China.
One of the most damaging legacies of the Obama administration’s “war on coal” was the creation of a 2015 rule that limits carbon-dioxide emissions on new coal-fired stations to 1,400 pounds per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. When releasing the new rule, entitled “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Generating Units,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserted that it “is the performance achievable by a [supercritical pulverized coal] unit capturing about 20 percent of its carbon pollution.”
This makes no sense. Besides the fact that carbon dioxide is plant food and so the very opposite of pollution, the technology of carbon-dioxide capture on a full-scale power plant is still a technological fantasy. In fact, the agency was banning even the most modern, very efficient, supercritical coal-fired stations because their carbon-dioxide emissions are at least 20 percent above the EPA limit. Considering that America has 22.1 percent of the world’s proven coal reserves, the greatest of any country and enough to last for 381 years at current consumption rates, it is a tragedy that the U.S. can no longer build new, clean, coal-fired power stations to replace its aging fleet of coal plants.
Supercritical power plants operate at very high temperatures and pressures, resulting in significantly greater efficiencies than older technologies. Supercritical stations burn less coal per megawatt-hour produced and so benefit the environment and the electricity consumer.
A modern, highly efficient, supercritical coal-fired station with stack gas cleanup is very clean indeed, essentially emitting only water vapor, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The stack gas cleanup removes virtually all of the sulfur dioxide and the nitrous oxide, the real pollutants. The only thing it discharges that could be called a pollutant is the ash, and this is not difficult to contain if it is done properly.
Supercritical stations are now being built across the world, but not in the U.S. due to Mr. Obama’s misguided rule limiting carbon dioxide from future power stations. Clearly, that rule must be next on the chopping block after President Trump has done away with the Clean Power Plan.
As in past years, Mr. Gore used his marathon internet broadcast to promote unreliable wind and solar power, sources that are many times more expensive than coal. Testifying on Nov. 28 at the EPA’s public hearing on the withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan in Charleston, W.Va., Robert E. Murray, president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp., explained, “Electricity from coal generation typically costs 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Renewable source generation costs 26 cents per kilowatt-hour, and it receives subsidies of 4 cents per kilowatt-hour from the taxpayers.” Renewables also benefit from free backup and many other advantages paid for by the consumer.
Wherever coal is phased out and wind and solar power are promoted, massive electricity price rises occur because of the wind and solar subsidies and the high cost of providing backup power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.
Ontario, Canada is a good example.
Ontario was once an industrial powerhouse and the home of hundreds of thousands of well-paid manufacturing jobs. But the province lost many of these jobs in the last decade-and-a-half when companies either went bankrupt or left Ontario. This happened largely because its electricity prices have increased over 200 percent since 2002.
Tom Adams, independent energy researcher and former board member of the Ontario Independent Electricity Market Operator explains, “The root cause of Ontario’s power rate cancer started with the coal phase-out.”
In the name of ‘stopping climate change,” the province shut down all of its inexpensive coal plants, which in 2002 provided about 25 percent of Ontario’s electricity. Yet, the province emits only 0.5 percent of world carbon-dioxide emissions, so even if these emissions mattered, the sacrifice was worthless. The fact that the Ontario government spent billions of dollars erecting about 8,000 industrial wind turbines only made matters worse. In a report co-authored with University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick, Mr. Adams concluded, “Solar and wind systems provide just under 4 percent of Ontario’s power but account for about 20 percent of the average commodity cost.”
When speaking at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2013 news conference announcing her government’s Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act, Mr. Gore said, “Ontario has become the first regional jurisdiction in all of North America to take these steps on the burning of coal. Congratulations, Ontario, and thank you, Ontario. We can solve [the climate crisis] but we need to get busy and follow Ontario’s lead.”
Electricity market expert University of Montreal professor Pierre-Olivier Pineau said, “Ontario is probably the worst electricity market in the world.” And this is a major reason why Ontario is now a “have not” province that receives payments from Canada’s national equalization fund designed to help poorer provinces provide adequate services. Mr. Gore should be asked: Who will bail out the U.S. if indeed it does follow Ontario’s lead?
• Bryan Leyland is an Auckland, New Zealand-based consulting engineer and the founding secretary and energy issues adviser of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). Tom Harris is the executive director of ICSC.