Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Determining the Real Cost of Coal Power

Can wind power realistically meet Delaware's energy needs? News Journal reporter Jeff Montgomery yesterday wrote of questions about wind power's reliability:
A wind farm proposed for Delaware's Atlantic Coast would power the region only halfway toward a 400-megawatt goal, documents show.
Papers filed with the Public Service Commission put Bluewater Wind's average generation at 194 megawatts, enough output to meet the daily power needs of 216,000 homes. The farm's peak output could reach 600 megawatts under good conditions.
Wind power is relatively new. Should citizens conclude that coal would be cheaper and more reliable? Maybe not. The New York Times reports that a forthcoming study from MIT points out that so-called clean coal technologies may not be as clean -- or as cheap -- as advertised:
Retrofitting either a gasification or pulverized coal power plant is not just a matter of adding new equipment and it might be impractical, the experts say. Temperatures and pressures would be designed to be in one range for a plant that captured its carbon, and another if it merely produced electricity with minimum use of fuel. Less fuel means less carbon dioxide production.
Adding carbon capture later also has implications for power supply. Early estimates are that carbon capture will require so much energy that it could reduce plant output by 10 to 30 percent.
A new coal gasification plant in Delaware could be required to add new controls early in its useful life that could reduce the power generated and greatly increase the capital and operating costs of the plant. The problem is that the plant could already be online or under construction before the impact of carbon emission controls could be reliably measured.
As noted here last month, Jack Markell has asked whether expected regulations to control carbon would drive up the cost of coal power:
Should the US penalize CO2 producing power plants, Delaware ratepayers may bear the burden of these costs for years to come. Aside from the financial costs, Delaware’s location as a low-lying coastal state makes it especially vulnerable to climate change and its harmful effect of sea level rise.
The pending federal legislation, existing state law, and emerging scientific and governmental studies suggest that early in the lifetime of these facilities, perhaps even before construction is completed, we will be in a business environment that places far higher penalties on CO2 emissions. Under current policy, these penalties would be passed on to consumers.
I recommend that as the PSC and the other agencies evaluate the various proposals for a new power facility in Delaware, they strongly consider the importance of price stability, new technology, and reductions in environmental impact (especially greenhouse gas emissions). They should take a long-term view of cost-effectiveness, considering not only today’s business environment but the business environment in which these facilities will operate during their entire functioning life.
The coal plant being proposed could have a useful life of as long as 50 years, which means we could being paying the higher costs required by carbon dioxide controls long after we all have gone to the old ratepayers home.


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