The story “Clean Coal Dream: A Costly Nightmare,” represents journalism at its worst. It appeared in the Sunday, July 11, 2010 issue of the Chicago Tribune.
It’s misleading and inaccurate, and can best be described as propaganda supporting cap & trade or climate legislation.
While local communities had expected that the Prairie State Energy Campus would result in lower prices for electricity, higher construction costs have resulted in a 30% price increase. The price of electricity from the Prairie State Campus is now projected to be 6.3 cents per kWh, which is in-line with coal fired power plants of this type.
The story vilified Peabody Coal for its role in promoting the Prairie State Campus and enlisting support for opposition to climate legislation.
The story was really a diatribe against coal fired power plants because they emit CO2.
The story claimed that the $4.4 million price tag for the plant could have been spent for a coal gasification plant.
Here are the facts.
The only way to accurately compare power plant construction costs is to determine the cost per KW. On that basis, the cost of the Prairie State Energy Campus’ plant is $2,750 per KW. This is only slightly more than the cost of other advanced coal fired power plants of its type.
The entire industry saw rapid increases in costs over the past several years. Natural gas combined cycle plants that cost around $600 per KW a few years ago, now cost around $1,200 per KW. Nuclear plants that were estimated to cost less than $2,000 per KW now will cost $4,000 or more per KW. Traditional coal fired power plants that cost around $1,000 a few years ago now cost around $2,000 per KW. Supercritical and ultra-supercritical plants are expected to cost around $2,500 per KW, though there is only minimum experience with these plants in the United States.
China is the world leader in supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal fired power plants, primarily because these plants control emissions far better than traditional coal fired plants and because they are 25% and 35% more efficient respectively. It’s important to note that supercritical and ultra-supercritical plants can cut SOx, NOx, particulates and mercury by at least 90%.
All utilities will see comparable increases in the cost of building new power plants and will have to increase their prices accordingly. The price increase cited by the Prairie State Energy Campus will be replicated elsewhere because of higher construction costs.
The Chicago Tribune story said that it would be possible to build an Integrated Gasification Combine Cycle (IGCC) plant for about the same cost as the Prairie State Campus: This is deceptive and inaccurate. It’s deceptive because any IGCC plant built for $4.4 million would be smaller.
It’s inaccurate because the cost per KW would be greater.
The Future Gen plant to be built in Southern Illinois is expected to cost $5,500 per KW, or exactly twice as much as the Prairie State plant. The other IGCC plants built in the U.S. have cost around $5,000 per KW, and some of these were not equipped to capture CO2. Tampa cancelled their proposed IGCC plant.
The Chicago Tribune story is another example of hysterical claims about climate change and the need to stop building coal fired power plants. The story sounded like a propaganda piece, suitable for publication in New York’s PM of the 1940’s.