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"Clean Coal" is a Sci-Fi Wet Dream of Desperate Electrical Utilities

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(Article changed on March 21, 2013 at 15:15)

(Article changed on March 21, 2013 at 15:07)

The technology associated with coal gasification (IGCC) for power generation, the so-called "clean coal" process, can be fraught with problems. Today, as one example, the latest gasification technology of the Kemper Coal Plant in Mississippi is being utilized to build a power plant designed to generate over 500 Megawatts of electricity. This is not a huge plant by generation standards, but it does impose a huge expense on the citizenry of Mississippi for what I fear is an impending debacle. I will focus in this article on the probability of success, but also comment later on the financial aspects. I will leave discussion of the environmental issues to others who know much more about them than I do. I want to keep things as simple as I can!

Although the illustrious "genius" and chairman of the three members of our Mississippi Public Service Commission, Mr. Leonard Bentz, has maintained that the gasification technology used in building the new facility has been "thoroughly tested," I contend that he is does not even understand this project and is merely a stooge for Mississippi Power and its parent, the Southern Co. of Georgia. I don't believe he understands anything about the technology or anything about the risks and potential hardships involved for the citizens and ratepayers of Mississippi. He actually publicly scolded us in the most recent PSC hearing he chaired in Jackson for our reluctance to grant Mississippi Power rate increases to pay for what we considered a boondoggle, accusing all of us of putting out false information. In an afternoon session, he quickly showed his lack of understanding and concern for the cost implications.  As Forrest Gump told us:  "Stupid is as stupid does."  Mr. Bentz should watch the movie "Forrest Gump" again.

The History and Record of Coal Gasification (IGCC) Plants

Let us briefly look into the record of "clean coal" technology in generating electrical power. There are numerous sources of information on the Internet that you can easily explore yourself just by "Googling."  I will offer excerpts from articles found at two such sources.  One is about the plant that the Southern Co. (yes, the parent of Mississippi Power!) is attempting to build in China!  The other is the experience of Duke Power in Indiana.  Oh how wonderful this "web" of progress, huh?

I'll include my sources here for you to read, but, frankly, it ain't rocket science to understand the scam and atrocity being imposed on us in the State of Mississippi. So I will attempt to summarize that as best I can.

Some Recent History

The following is from a source now nearly a year old, but it is still significant.  Read this message!

"GreenGen and the handful of other IGCC coal plants in various stages of construction worldwide--including another plant in China and two in the United States--are the sole survivors among dozens of IGCC projects proposed and shelved over the past decade. Most fell by the wayside only in the past few years. A push for carbon legislation in the United States collapsed, as did the 2009 climate treaty negotiations held in Copenhagen. Without such measures, utilities have no incentive to invest in carbon capture. Over the same period, coal progressively lost its status as the cheapest fuel for power generation, as hydraulic fracturing operations flooded the natural gas market and slashed gas prices."

"The resulting IGCC casualties include even FutureGen, the flagship project in the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Coal program and the inspiration for GreenGen. The Bush administration killed FutureGen in 2008 amid rising costs. The project may return under President Obama but as a test of a simpler but even less-proven low-carbon coal scheme known as oxyfuel combustion."

[Both excerpted paragraphs above are from a source entitled "China's first coal gasification power plant opened in Tianjin." click here]

I don't want to overload you with data or information here. Just some facts, Mams and Gents. This little 3.5 billion dollar plant that Mississippi Power and the Southern Co. of Georgia are building in Kemper County represent an enormous risk and potential disaster, and the citizenry of Mississippi is being asked by their corrupted state government to assume all the risks.

Let's look at another specific example in the U.S. The Edwardsport, Indiana, IGCC plant built by Duke Energy was begun in 2007. I can't determine whether it is running yet, but I believe the cost overruns were almost exactly what are being projected for Kemper, about one-billion dollars. It's not clear whether it is even operational or not.  Here are some excerpts from a report on the plant from the latest source I could find:

"In 2007, Duke Energy Indiana began construction of a 618 megawatt (MW) integrated gasification combined cycle power plant. This plant was to be the first of its kind of its size. The gasification process at the new plant involves converting coal into a combustible syngas that will be used in a combustion turbine. The exhaust gases are routed through a large heat recovery steam generator that will be used in conjunction with a steam turbine to further increase the plant's efficiency. The new plant is slated to be a base-load station. The construction of the plant has reserved the necessary space required for carbon capture and storage if Duke Energy decides to add this component to the plant at a later date. [2] However, when the plant was originally planned, it was thought the site was ready for carbon injection. After conducting further research, it was determined that the site is actually not geologically suitable for underground storage of carbon. Instead, Duke Energy Indiana would need to seek approval to construct a pipeline to transport carbon to a more suitable site."

"Edwardsport's pollution per unit of energy produced will be greatly reduced, as particulate matter and mercury will be removed from the syngas. The coal-derived synthetic gas is much cleaner than conventional coal combustion to begin with, and it is easier to clean to a greater extent. Coal gasification allows carbon capture to occur before the fuel is combusted -- a much easier and economically feasible operation than carbon capture of exhaust gases."

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Ph. D in Physics, MBA in Management, lifetime educator and consultant.
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