Whatever happened to clean coal?

6 Mar 2013

During the 2012 campaign, the candidates talked a lot about “clean” coal.  Neither candidate was willing to  propose eliminating coal burning power plants for political reasons.  The Obama administration has adopted regulations that strongly encourage the replacement of coal burning power plants, typically with plants burning natural gas.  Further, as reported here, the boom in cheaper natural gas production has encouraged utilities to shift generation from coal to gas.

There is no “cash for clunkers” program for coal burning power plants due to the politics and costs but there are certainly benefits to such a shift – reduced mercury emissions as well as lower CO2 emissions.

More recently, Deutsche Bank and Standard and Poors have issued predictions that China’s use of coal will peak in 2017 and that coal pricing should take into account future carbon constraints – meaning that coal may become far less profitable and market forces (such as cheap and abundant natural gas) may drive many coal burners out of operation.

Finally, on Monday, President Obama appointed Ernest Moniz to be his Secretary of Energy, replacing Steven Chu.  Professor Moniz has previously testified to Congress on something sounding very much like the Pickens Plan to use gas to wean us off coal and toward more sustainables, which seem to be growing closer in competitive costs.  This may be important as Michigan still gets a large percentage of its electricity from coal.

So, whatever happened to “clean coal”?  While past predictions have often turned out to be wildly wrong, the market trends at present seem to indicate that the question may, in the future, be a real question our children ask as coal’s time may finally be drawing to a close.



Leave a Comment to “Whatever happened to clean coal?”

  1. Greg Pronger 06. Mar, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    I never saw the term “clean coal” as a viable option, more than a marketing scheme by the coal industry.

    Proposals for “clean coal” were marginally viable, and excessively costly. Regarding costs, what I see in energy trade information, overall n-gas is less expensive than coal. Much is this is due, not to direct regulations, but distribution costs. Once the pipeline is laid, the cost for distribution appears significantly less expensive than the alternatives for coal.

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