(Forbes, September 27) – The demonstrated success of technology in the energy business means all energy sources must be allowed to compete in our goal to expand our economy, advance energy security, and improve the environment. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) not only downplays the critical role of coal but also the constant evolution of clean coal technology. But, coal has been the basis of electric power since its inception. Historically, coal has provided some 50% of U.S. electricity for measurable reasons:
“Energy Security:” at 265 billion tons, the U.S. has a leading 27% of the world’s coal, a 265-year supply in proven reserves alone. Even beyond how then-Senator Barack Obama put it in 2008, “we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal,” we actually have more energy in our vast coal reserves alone than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia have combined for oil.
Availability/Reliability: coal is our most widely distributed energy resource, found in 38 states. We have an immense network to deliver coal, and because coal can be stored on power generation site, it’s readily available: coal is a baseload, 24/7 source that provided over 90% of incremental U.S. electricity during the very challenging Polar Vortex of 2014. To illustrate the reliability, coal in 2014 was just 28% of U.S. power generation capacity, but actually supplied 39% of electricity.
More Affordable: coal is our most affordable source of electricity, and providing 50% and more of electricity kept our prices low until 2005. Anti-coal policies have helped push coal’s share to around 35-38% since then, and the U.S. Electricity Price Index continues to break record highs. Residential rates reached a record high 12.5 cents/kWh in 2014, while poverty soared to nearly 50 million. The health benefits of more affordable energy from coal go conveniently ignored: disposable income is the leading indicator of our health.
Clean coal technology works. By reducing the amount of fuel for a given electricity output, higher efficiency for coal plants is among the most predictable, lowest cost methods of reducing all emissions including CO2. A 1% increase in efficiency equals a 2% reduction in such emissions such as CO2, NOx, SO2, and particulate matter. Highly efficient modern supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal plants emit almost 40% less CO2 than subcritical plants, according to the World Energy Council.
The overall thermal efficiency of some older, smaller units can be 30%, but new plants can now achieve overall thermal efficiencies in the 43-46% range, and efficiencies of 47-50% are achievable with currently developed materials. Raising the efficiency from 33% to 40% would deliver the equivalent environmental benefit, every year, of reducing India’s CO2 emissions to zero. Since 1990 alone, the U.S. coal industry has invested $120 billion to reduce emissions, to very impressive results.