Future of Coal Is Green, Say Montana and West Virginia

Published January 1, 2006

Championing clean coal technology as America’s power source of choice for the twenty-first century, U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is lobbying American Electric Power (AEP) to locate a proposed state-of-the-art clean coal power plant in West Virginia.

AEP plans to build a 600 megawatt plant utilizing integrated gasification combined cycle technology, which gasifies coal into a highly efficient and low-emissions power source. After building a similar plant in Meigs County, Ohio, AEP has yet to decide where to build its next plant.

“West Virginia has the workforce, the coal, and the desire to be home to a new AEP power plant,” Byrd told the October 26 Huntington News.

“A new power plant, utilizing IGCC [integrated gasification combined cycle] technologies, would demonstrate that there is a long life ahead for West Virginia coal,” Byrd continued. “It would show what I have believed for a long time; namely, that energy production and environmental protection can work in tandem. We can burn coal more cleanly and efficiently, and we can find new ways to address climate change.”

Environmentally Friendly Coal

“Gas is no longer the obvious environmental choice as it was two years ago,” conceded Dominique Venet, vice president for natural gas at the French power company EDF, in an October 27 Reuters news report.

“AEP is taking a leading role in the nation’s energy future,” Byrd told the Huntington News. “The company has demonstrated its willingness to lead the way with a new fleet of highly efficient, clean-burning power plants. And West Virginia has demonstrated its willingness to be the home for such a facility. I think that this is a great opportunity for AEP and for West Virginia.”

“The future of coal is clean,” said Ben Lieberman, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. “Of course, coal is presently very clean as well. Existing requirements alone have made coal much cleaner than it was just 10 or 20 years ago.”

Bipartisan Support in Montana

In Montana, meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are uniting behind coal as the state’s primary energy source.

At an October 18 energy conference in Bozeman, 2004 Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat Davidson called for increased coal production in the state. “The stars are lined up,” said Davidson, reported the October 19 Billings Gazette. “The people of Montana are becoming less afraid of development. These are the times that are ripe for coal development in Montana.”

Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer agreed. “The country has two options for energy until we build a bridge to a hydrogen economy,” said Schweitzer, according to the November 3 Billings Gazette. “We can either continue to give money to dictators who want to destroy our way of life, or we can provide tens of thousands of jobs in America’s heartland.”

Coal gasification “is a clean fuel, converted from coal by a chemical process,” Schweitzer told the Helena Independent Record on November 26. “We can produce enough of this in Montana to power every American car for decades.”

Clean Coal Debate

A house editorial in the November 26 Roanoke Times summarized critics’ concerns about clean coal technology.

“The good news is that the process makes the released carbon dioxide easier to capture than when coal is burned in power plants,” the Times noted. “The bad news is that, once the CO2 is captured, there’s no good way of disposing of it.

“Theoretically, the CO2 could be sequestered underground or even in the oceans, but there is no guarantee that these methods would work on a large scale. The liquefaction process is also expensive and energy intensive,” the Times added.

“The real question is not whether the future of coal will be clean,” countered Lieberman, “but whether activists insist that it be so clean that it loses its economic advantages. Coal is inexpensive and domestically produced. Insisting on an excessive gantlet of unnecessary environmental regulations would likely force the United States to use foreign energy sources, expensive energy sources, or both.”

Progress in Montana

Regardless of the ultimate fate of clean coal technology, coal in one form or another is certain to fulfill Montana’s energy needs for decades to come, Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, told the October 18 Bozeman conference.

“It is quite clear that the central purpose of this meeting is to create an energy plan for Montana in which coal is the central long-term energy source,” Jensen said.

“In Montana, West Virginia, and the rest of the United States, coal is definitely the electricity source of the foreseeable future,” Lieberman agreed.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

For more information on American Electric Power and clean coal technology, visit the firm’s Web site at http://www.aep.com.