Bad Clean-Coal

The sobriquet “clean-coal” has become associated with Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants that use carbon capture and sequestration.

It’s the type the president asked for in his State of the Union address.

This is unfortunate because IGCC plants are very expensive and there is another type of coal fired power plant that deserves the title “clean-coal”, specifically Ultra Supercritical coal-fired power plants.

IGCC gives clean-coal a bad name.

Recently the Illinois legislature debated building the Taylorsville IGCC plant at a cost of $5,800 per KW. This compares with $1,200 / KW for natural gas combined cycle plants or $2,500 / KW for the most modern Ultra-Supercritical coal-fired power plants. (The Illinois House approved, but the Senate disapproved building this IGCC plant. It’s not clear what will happen next.)

Illinois utilities would be forced to purchase this expensive electricity because of the 2008 Illinois act requiring utilities to purchase 5% of their electricity from coal-fired plants that capture and sequester at least half of the CO2 emitted by the plant. It’s estimated that the cost of electricity from the Taylorsville IGCC plant will be over 21 cents per kWh, or about twice the current rate paid by Illinois homeowners.

It is the rate payer, the home owner, who will have to bear the brunt of this bad energy policy.

The table from my June 24 article shows the typical cost of building various types of power plants.

Method Fuel & Operating Costs Costs incl. Depreciation Construction Costs
Traditional Coal $0.02 /kWh $0.04 /kWh $2,000 /KW
Ultra Supercritical Coal $0.02 /kWh $0.06 /kWh $2,500 /KW
Natural Gas Combined Cycle NA $0.06 /kWh $1,200 /KW
Nuclear (Recent costs increasing) $0.02 /kWh $0.09 /kWh $4,000 /KW
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle NA NA $5,000 /KW

The cost of fuel needs to be incorporated in the total bus-bar cost of electricity. In the past, coal has been less expensive than natural gas, but with the advent of fracking and the resulting surfeit of natural gas, natural gas is now less expensive than coal as a fuel for power plants.

Legislation that forces people to pay more for their electricity is bad legislation, and this includes requirements to buy electricity from coal-fired power plants that capture and sequester CO2 and to also buy electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar.

Bad energy policies being adopted by various states and the federal government stem from the fear that CO2 emissions are causing global warming. The articles on August 27, October 22 and January 20, 2011 addressed CO2 emissions.

Ultra Supercritical coal-fired power plants provide inexpensive electricity with a minimum of NOx, SOx, particulate and mercury emissions, and deserve the sobriquet “clean coal”.

IGCC power plants, with their high cost, are bad for America.

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