Coal, Nuclear

Two Graphs, One Story

Issue 3 and Volume 112.

By David Wagman, Managing Editor

Two graphs tell a basic truth about our energy choices. Both are based on data from the Energy Information Administration. The first shows installed generating capacity for four generation types: coal, nuclear, natural gas and wind. The second reflects projected U.S. net energy for load through 2011.

The graphs show either a big problem or a big opportunity; probably both. Because although wind has been garnering most of the headlines recently, its total contribution still barely registers when compared to coal, natural gas or nuclear. (Hint: It’s the blue line just above zero on the graph below.)

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The wind industry installed 5,244 MW of wind energy in 2007, expanding the installed base by 45 percent and representing a $9 billion investment, said the American Wind Energy Association.

The achievement is noteworthy, but it barely nudges wind on its Everest-like assault on the other generation sources. Keep in mind that even as wind enjoyed a record growth year, opposition was growing to wind farm footprints and transmission line corridors.

The second graph shows 2006 growth forecasts for net energy for load. These two graphs make it clear that wind will need to maintain a 2007-like growth pace simply to stay in place.

At the same time the assault on coal—the Coal War—continues. Like the Cold War that followed World War II, the American Coal War is largely ideological, political and financial in nature. Nowhere is the conflict in sharper relief than in Kansas where the struggle over the proposed two-unit, 1,400 MW Holcomb power plant (backed by Sunflower Electric Cooperative) continues.

The state’s chief environmental official last October refused to grant an air permit for the proposed station, citing what he said would be an unacceptable amount of carbon emissions. Sunflower took the battle to the state legislature where its supporters tried this winter to craft a bill to compel the regulator to grant the air permit.

The U.S House of Representatives jumped in as well last month, with an inquiry from a member wondering how federal funds from the Rural Utilities Service were being used on the proposed power project. (Interestingly, the same agency in late February said it would not help finance a proposed Southern Montana Electric G&T coal-fired plant. A spokesperson cited “cost and timing” as the reason.)

Complicating things nationally, three investment banks in late January released what they referred to as “The Principles”, which they said would guide their risk evaluation of companies that continue to invest in carbon-heavy fuels.

Complex times? You bet. The editorial staff at Power Engineering magazine is developing content that aims to shed light on the conflicts and efforts to provide new generating capacity.

This issue of Power Engineering offers the first of a two-part series by Associate Editor Steve Blankinship who reports on carbon capture technologies and projects. Steve writes this month that a number of promising solutions are being investigated. In May Steve will look at specific carbon capture projects.

We also are devoting more editorial space to Field Notes, which details how power plants can cut parasitic load and enhance efficiency to shrink their carbon profile and boost output.

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Also, beginning in April our electronic newsletter will publish weekly. Besides offering feature articles and news, it will offer charts, graphs and other data to help explain the power industry. What’s more, our conferences—Renewable Energy World, POWER-GEN International, Coal-Gen, Nuclear Power International and POWER-GEN International Online—will emphasize many of these same themes in conference sessions.

I encourage your active participation in the discussion and invite your letters at [email protected].