Coal’s Future: Play Defense, Promote Carbon Capture – 8/18/16

For the coal industry, survival would be victory enough at this point and they seem to be looking to the tobacco industry as a guide.

Though it seems an odd comparison, parallels between the two faltering industries were made a year ago at an annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute, an industry group representing coal interests in Western states, in a slideshow entitled “Survival Is Victory.” The slides did not accept climate change as fact, but stated that public opinion was such that it no longer mattered. The recommendation ultimately made in the slides was to prepare for more stringent regulation, while promoting research into reducing the carbon footprint of coal power plants.

In an interview, the developer of the presentation, said it simply recognized “political reality” and that the message was well received, though the two industries are “completely different,” he added. “At the end of the day, energy is something that we, as a society, require. Tobacco is not.”

But there are plenty of substitutes for coal as source of energy as a string of bankruptcy filings by coal companies can attest.

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The hopes of the industry now seem to lay with developing carbon capture technology cheap enough to bring coal in line with regulations without decimating its cost competitiveness relative to natural gas or renewables.

So far clean-coal has had a rocky start. The Texas Clean Energy Project that was meant to demonstrate the viability of the clean-coal concept is under pressure from the Department of Energy as it has failed to secure financing. Developers have bought time using an informal dispute resolution process, but the plant is running low on options as government support wanes amid criticisms of carbon capture technology’s commercial viability. Other projects such as Southern Co.’s Kemper coal plant in Mississippi and NRG Energy Inc.’s addition of carbon capture to a Houston coal plant are also facing scrutiny as the recent energy glut drove profitability into the dirt.

Still, carbon capture technology has a lot to offer and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers can agree, albeit for different reasons, that funding CO2 sequestration projects is worthwhile.

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