Coal has a future in Michigan

Article Highlights

  • Think the days of coal plants in Michigan are numbered? Not so fast.

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  • Coal is a cheap energy option accounting for 40% of electricity generated and nearly 50% of the power in Michigan.

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  • Absent a change in policy, utilities will be forced to continue the switch from coal to high-priced natural gas to meet plant-by-plant emission limits.

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Think the days of coal plants in Michigan are numbered? Not so fast.

Notwithstanding challenges from environmental groups, our nation’s success with innovative technologies for increasing the efficiency of new power plants will keep coal in the energy mix for decades to come.

Coal is among our cheapest energy options, accounting for 40 percent of the nation’s electricity generating capacity and nearly 50 percent of the power in Michigan. By using advanced clean-coal systems like ultra-supercritical pulverized coal technology we can increase power-plant efficiency by as much as 50 percent compared to conventional coal plants.

The most advanced of these pulverized coal plants use 50 percent less fuel for the same power generation and emit 50 percent less carbon dioxide.

Witness the success of American Electric Power Co.’s Turk power plant in Arkansas, the nation’s first ultra-supercritical coal unit.

The 600-megawatt plant was built in four years, despite legal challenges from environmentalists, and began commercial operation in 2012.

Along with other clean-coal technologies that achieve higher efficiencies, the advantage of ultra-supercritical coal units is drawing growing interest globally because of the role they play in lessening coal’s carbon footprint.

But there is a threat hanging over the use of coal in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency has placed restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions from new coal plants that no technology currently available could meet, not even ultra-supercritical coal systems or modern coal gasification plants. And, if you think that mandate is unrealistic, there’s more to come.

The agency is preparing to impose greenhouse-gas regulations on the nation’s more than 550 operating coal plants later this year.

The EPA’s actions constitute bad policy. Under its rule to control greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants, the EPA would require something that doesn’t exist as a commercial technology.

This is sequestration, a complex process that involves capturing the carbon dioxide produced by coal combustion, transporting the gas to sites where it would be injected underground and burying it in deep geological formations, such as saline aquifers.

In a way, the foolishness of the EPA’s approach symbolizes its nonsensical pursuit of carbon-free energy production. In the name of environmentalism, the EPA is making bad policy based on emotionalism and a myopic view of what works and doesn’t work in the real world.

Congress needs to address the EPA’s absurd carbon policy and it should direct the agency to base greenhouse-gas emission standards for power plants on technology that is proven and commercially available.

Absent a change in policy, utilities will be forced to continue the switch from coal to high-priced natural gas to meet plant-by-plant emission limits.

Maintaining a diverse mix of energy sources, including coal and nuclear power, for base-load power delivered 24/7 would protect consumers from high gas prices.

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