Researchers say America has twice as much energy (btus) in recoverable coal as the Saudis have in oil.
The key word is “recoverable.” Some coal cannot be recovered. Some is too expensive to recover. Some is too expensive to use if recovered. By one measure the U.S. has enough recoverable coal to fuel energy generation for 130 years. Others say 240 years.
Sounds like a lot of energy independence to me.
Well, it would be if we are allowed to burn it.
But burning coal generates particulate, mercury, and sulfur and carbon dioxide. The Sierra club describes this with more fervor: “Coal combustion produces smog, soot, acid rain, the neurotoxin mercury, and is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, a leading cause of global warming.”
Environmental rules governing discharges get stricter every year. Now, the Sierra Club argues that a loophole in the federal Clean Air Act has allowed existing power plants to avoid installing modern pollution controls. They want government to force power companies to install modern technologies for aging coal-fired plants.
So, you might assume, the Sierra Club favors coal-fired plants that meet or exceed Clean Air Act standards?
How about one that would remove 99% of the sulfur dioxide, 90% of the mercury, and 99% of the particulates, would capture 65% of the carbon dioxide, and discharge no water?
The Sierra Club does not favor the Kemper County lignite plant that Mississippi Power Company plans to build, a plant that will meet these standards.
Think it through. Mississippi Power burns lots of coal. It’s okay for the company to revamp its old plants so they pollute less, though not as much less as the Kemper plant. But it’s not okay to build the Kemper plant because of pollution concerns.
The technology Mississippi Power will use in the Kemper plant will make more coal “recoverable.” Lignite is a form of “low-rank” coal that constitutes about half our known coal reserves. Being able to cost-effectively use low-rank coal increases our years of energy independence.
Even more fascinating.
But, neither has anything to do with why I favor the lignite plant.
I admit my lens is tinted by economic development. I like the Kemper plant because it will mean stability in power generation and power costs for my neck of the woods. If we had nuclear or hydroelectric power, I would feel the same. We don’t.
Of course, it also means Mississippi Power will be buying local coal, not out of state coal, hiring lots of local workers who need jobs, and providing a huge economic impact from its investments.
The Sierra Club can take a hike. (They do that, don’t they?)