A 'clean coal' technology has been proposed that will provide power to generate electricity without emitting global warming pollution. The idea is that modified coal power plants would capture the polluting gas, carbon dioxide, pump it into open spaces underground, and store it there permanently. The technology has been promoted by coal mining and power companies, and has been supported by President Bush and the three presidential candidates. However, carbon dioxide capture, storage, and safety remain unproven, and the cost of building clean coal power plants is proving to be prohibitive.
The cost of the FutureGen clean coal project in Illinois rose from $1 Billion to $1.8 Billion, including $1 Billion in government subsidies. Fearing that the already high cost would further increase, the U.S. Energy Department canceled the FutureGen project. Another clean coal plant proposed in Edwardsport, Indiana would cost an estimated $2.35 Billion, a $365 Million increase from earlier estimates.
Here in the Buffalo area, an ailing economy and the need for new jobs are driving demands to build a clean-coal power plant in Tonawanda, NRG's proposed Huntley plant. The cost last year was estimated at $1.5 Billion. The current cost and status of the Huntley plant are not clear, and NY State is moving away from coal power to decrease pollution. Recently, in nearby Rochester, NY, a coal-fired power plant was shut down and converted to use natural gas, which generates less carbon dioxide than coal, and doesn't emit mercury pollution.
Coal's future looks bleak on Wall Street. Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have downgraded coal company stocks across the board. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America said lending for coal-fired power plants will be contingent on utilities demonstrating they would be economically viable under future federal rules on emissions. A federal tax on carbon dioxide emissions is inevitable. Together with the high cost of cleaning coal, the tax will make coal a more expensive and less desirable source of energy.
Fortunately, clean energy sources, like wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal, provide alternatives to burning coal. Clean energy sources do not emit carbon dioxide pollution, and are environmentally safe and renewable. Low-cost, reliable hydropower from Niagara Falls is attractive to manufacturing companies and is creating new jobs in Western NY. Wind turbine towers are sprouting up across the region. A national shift to clean energy sources will create millions of new jobs in construction, engineering, manufacturing and other areas, and will reduce global warming pollution. It will be a win-win situation for Americans and the planet.