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Why do Politicians Champion Clean Coal?

Sorry to offend,

I would hope I can be be a patriot and still question my country and it's path. Last I recall freedom of speech was a founding principal. The love it or leave sentiment only confirms my belief that our ideals our eroding.

I'm not trying to dictate what a persons aspirations should be, as long as they don't hurt anyone else. Unfortunately some of the richest people in our country have let their "aspirations" go a bit too far, and for this we will pay collectively.

Framing the dichotomy of freedom and responsibility in cold war rhetoric does very little to advance important questions about the role of government in society.


  • D107
    D107 Member Posts: 1,849
    While solar is greatly ignored

    I've recently heard 'clean coal' being mentioned in the presidential race. The wall does have a fine thread on this subject for two years ago.

    Check out this recent article from the Washington Post in the link below. Compared to the forward thinking I find on the Wall, I am truly dismayed at our nation's inability to move forward on true energy innovation, even in the face of the terrible financial crisis.

    Is it that the 'sun' is potentially accessible by everyone unlike coal, oil or gas? Why wouldn't oil companies be investing heavily in solar so they'll be in the driver's seat in a few decades? Probably a naive question.,,,



  • Steve Garson_2
    Steve Garson_2 Member Posts: 712

    My 88 year old father asked, "Why can't the government sponsor a Manhattan Project for better energy sources". Take the best and the brightest scientists and put them to work.

    Whether it is better batteries, solar cells. Remember in the early 1960's learning that home boilers would be little nuclear reactors:-)
    Steve from Denver, CO
  • Brad White_201
    Brad White_201 Member Posts: 52
    Why not?

    We sit on billions of tons of it and coal today burns much more cleanly than even ten years ago.

    The scrubbers and reclamation process captures the dust which has high heat content and is injected into secondary combustion chambers for an added flourish and clean burn.

    Remember when "acid rain" was all the rage? Now when you hear about "acid rain", it is in context of a slip and fall at a Grateful Dead reunion concert.

    Naturally the coal states of KY, WY, WV, PA, OH and others have their representatives naturally cater to their constituencies. But the larger goal of energy independence transcends "just local" politics.

    Coal in and of itself is just part of the picture. We have it, we burn it rather cleanly, it creates jobs and makes steam well. (Steam is the medium of choice for most electrical generation where heat is involved. Gas turbines and nuclear technology are the others.)

    Coal also has the feature of limited travel, specifically much of the coal burned is close to the source. Stated another way, coal-burning plants were built near coal seams. Trains and barges do the rest of course, but I would say most coal does not travel as much as say, oil.

    Solar to steam? Maybe some day but it is not there yet. We are not talking PVA's to power the nation, much as we take the edge off our home usage. But in fact it was the oil companies, Shell in particular, who pioneered mass-produced solar panels. When they or any company does not invest in a certain technology, it is generally because it will not be economically viable. That is what companies do.

    My $0.02

  • D107
    D107 Member Posts: 1,849
    good points as always Brad, but

    The linked article concerns were the strip mining process which is often involved. I don't know enough to dispute the writer, but I do know that while everyone is crying publicly that we're addicted to oil, Congress has been unable to pass an extension on the tax credits for solar energy. Don't know if you had time to read the article but I'd be curious to know what you think.


  • J.C.A._3
    J.C.A._3 Member Posts: 2,981
    To break down Brad's comment.....

    IT'S CHEAP and plentiful.

    I know all the arguments, but that's the bottom line.

    Hey Brad, I've seen solar to steam at work. It takes up a bit more space than a power plant...but cooks birds that fly through the focused beams/parabolic mirrors to the water tower to "well done"... much faster than any microwave I've ever seen! It's in the Arizona desert, so buyers aren't really hankerin' for a neighborhood or anything close by! Chris
  • Glen
    Glen Member Posts: 855
    hard clean coal??

    almost an oxymoron! Where just a small percentage change of the sulfur content allows the term "clean". Here too in the SE parts of British Columbia we have an abundance of solid black gold - most of which finds its way to China or Japan and some to power plants in Ontario and NE USA. Next door in Alberta though - they are sitting on tonnes of the stuff. A recent report stated that coal generation (of electricity)in Alberta accounts for more green house gas emissions than all of the tar sands development to date and much of the proposed tar sends expansion projects. Its not clean - but we do have lots of it and its easy to ship via rail car!
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517

    The "Mt Tom "Power plant here in Western Ma. burns coal and always has. It is a small plant owned by Northeast Utilities--you can see it from Rt.91

    It's coal supply--Comes from China--beleive it or not it's true!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a screwed up deal. Just google "Mt. Tom Power Plant"

  • CC.Rob_7
    CC.Rob_7 Member Posts: 17
    coal at what full cost?


    Interesting article in Nat Geo a couple years ago about "mountaintopping," which is basically how a lot of this stuff is mined. There are significant environmental, economic, and even aesthetic issues. Valuing the full costs of this practice is difficult.

    Is coal a part of our energy future? Sure. But we need to think about the full costs of exploiting it in order to figure out how it will contribute to the environmental and energy mix.
  • The way I understand it,

    although I have not confirmed this, is, the coal we have in the ground here is "dirty" coal and by some law we cannot burn it, but we can ship it overseas where no such law exists. Meanwhile we must buy "clean" coal from overseas to comply with this law. If anyone out there can provide clarification on this I'd like to see it.

    I recently looked at a comparison chart of BTU/$ for all fuels and coal, by far, a LARGE margin, provided the most BTU per $ spent. Probably becasue the demand for it is so low. Soon as people start switching and buying it up, that will change. Interesting times we live in.

    Ah, here's the list right here, you'll have to adjust the numbers to fit the fuel costs in your area I'll give the top three just for an example:

    #2 @ 3.00/gal = $21.43 per million BTU ((1 mil / 140K)x 3)

    NG @$2.60/100,000 = $26 per million BTU (2.6 x 10)

    Coal @ $150/ton = $6 per million BTU (150/25 mil)

    See? Cheap!

    Now, you retire to a place like Mt Cobb, PA, spend the rest of your days walking the old coal railroad beds collecting coal off the ground and you'll never spend money on fuel again. ;)
  • doug_44
    doug_44 Member Posts: 4
    This plant burned

    oil from 1970 to 1981.

    On Sept 3rd, 2008 the French company that helps manage Holyoke's sewer system announced its intention to buy the plant. GDF Suez Energy International signed an agreement to buy FirstLight Power Enterprises Inc. FirstLight operates 15 plants in the NE.

    Coal is delivered to the plant by train. I do not know the source of the coal. It is considered a dirty plant that emits 17 pounds of mercury a year. Presumably it will have its mercury emissions down to 7.5 pounds by the end of 2009.

    In Service Date - 1960

    Capacity (MW) - 146.

    Turbine Manufacturer - General Electric.

    Boiler Manufacturer - Riley Stoker.

    Steam Pressure - 1800.

    Steam Temperature - 1000.

    Original Fuel - Coal.

    Oil Conversion - 1970.

    Coal Conversion - 1981

    Current Fuel - Coal.

    Here is a coal train
  • singh
    singh Member Posts: 866
    Natural Gas

    for electricity should be reduced. Let's use the NG for other things like home heating.

    States that have the highest electricity rates use 50% or more NG.
    States with the lowest rates use 50% or more coal to produce electric.

    There is enough for a couple hundred years, a viable alternative to give us the time we need to come up with other cheaper, and practical alternatives to oil.

    I believe gasification process can be achieved, much like gasification wood boilers.

    Click on the link, and see how much coal your state uses:

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  • Angela_2
    Angela_2 Member Posts: 67

    "But in fact it was the oil companies, Shell in particular, who pioneered mass-produced solar panels. When they or any company does not invest in a certain technology, it is generally because it will not be economically viable. That is what companies do."

    I think a key question here is economically viable

    Have any of you seen the documentary "Who killed the electric car?" Check it out, most DVD rental places have it, netflix has it. It will open your eyes to the situation we are in as consumers.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they have many versions of effective solar technology that we have never seen.

    In the early 70's an Opel sedan got 376 miles per gallon. I guess it was just not economically viable for such a vehicle to exist, or for anyone to develop that technology for mass use??? In fact, this car belonged to the venerable Dutch oil company, Shell Oil.

    I am sorry to say it, but the C-word applies here. CONSPIRACIES DO EXIST. Particularly when you are talking about technologies that would benefit too many people without sufficiently lining the pockets of those special few who get to make the decisions. And unfortunately for all of us, IT IS POSSIBLE TO KEEP A GOOD IDEA DOWN. Especially when you have government helping those with the most to lose to keep it down.

    If you cannot believe this, then it is time to study history. Just about any 100 year period will do.

  • Angela_2
    Angela_2 Member Posts: 67
    you guys make me wonder how efficient my snowman is on coal...

    it was made for it, and i still have a coal bin. i wonder how many tons of coal would get me through this heating season?
  • Brad White_201
    Brad White_201 Member Posts: 52
    The process

    of getting coal out of the ground is messy, no doubt, and dangerous. That is why strip mining was developed initially and that also has the effect of higher extraction compared to mole-digging. With strip mining, they can extract right to the next strata bordering the seam. With mole-digging, every extraction is a potential collapse point.

    All of the factors in total energy cost have to be taken into account, it is true. Even so, we are sitting on a lot of coal and older mines thought to be depleted can now give more with newer harvesting techniques. Of course the risk of sink-holes and subterranean fires burning for years add to the debit column.

    With the publicity given to scarring the earth, strip miners were given a mandate to restore the earth surface to a plantable condition and strip mining does not leave sink holes nor fire potential at least.

    Not that any of this is ideal nor desirable of course, but it is seeking a balance.

    The resistance to holding back on tax credits for solar goes to the economic viability of solar at this point. There have been abundant grants in years past to developing the technologies we use today in solar. Add to that, direct tax credits for your installation then becomes the make or break point.

    When the difference between an economic installation and one that cannot be afforded unless one obligates fellow taxpayers is evident, I think that holding back on expanding tax credits is wise. In other words, if a given solar solution is economically viable, it should stand on it's own two feet as a total investment.

    I may want to install a solar array, fuel cell, whatever, in my house but I cannot obligate my neighbors to help pay for it.
  • Angela_2
    Angela_2 Member Posts: 67

    but then i read that washington post article david posted. sigh.

    there is probably a law against burning coal in my coal boiler anyway. can't let us have toooo many choices.
  • Andrew Hagen_2
    Andrew Hagen_2 Member Posts: 236

    Brad, Don't forget about the six electoral votes of Montana and Wyoming! ;-)

    Here is how I see it... Looking at it from a politician's point of view, coal is abundant and the infrastructure exists to take advantage of it immediately. What makes solar less attractive to politicians is that it requires conservation and individual investment. Good luck selling conservation in an election. It's a lot easier to sell a technology where some big company has to make the capital investment and there is no change to our way of life.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517

    You are correct it did burn oil at one time I appologize.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517

    I'm sure you could burn coal if you wanted to.
  • Angela_2
    Angela_2 Member Posts: 67

    Should I?

    Have you ever heard of anyone doing that? I wonder how much efficiency I would get out of that...

    I would have to stoke the fire, I would have to get the coal into the basement (bet they don't dump it in for you anymore). Have to get it shipped here. Lots of ash to dispose of. My backyard is already full of it.

    Lots of shoveling, huh?

    I wonder how many tons in a season?
  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611


    The billions of tons we sit on are not going to be extracted as easily as the stuff we have already used. The human tole of underground mining is well documented. The best quality most accessible seems have already been exploited. Surface mining operations are an environmental nightmare and the industry has a very bad record of honoring it's reclamation promises. The industry would be seriously hampered in recent years if it were not for the systematic dismantling of environmental enforcement capacity, orchestrated by the bush administration.

    While combustion tec. has certainly improved, it has not eliminated problems. Mercury fallout remains a serious problem, not just for sport fisherman but children who depend on the municipal water sources tainted by this fallout.

    Then there is the carbon issue. Perhaps you question the validity of anthro-warming. The vast majority of climate scientist are taking this very seriously.
    Coal has the worst carbon/btu ratio of any fossil fuel. Sequestration is going to be very expensive the DOE has poured tons of cash into researching this and so far it's not looking good.

    Clean Coal is an oxymoron!

    I'm under no delusions about solar replacing our current energy infrastructure. The path to "energy independence" is best pursued by a radical reexamination of our use of energy. The cheap energy era that has fueled global development is drawing to a close, do we ignore this reality and try and drill, dig and fight to maintain something inherently unsustainable? ,or do we consider a fundemental reexamination of the way we live?

  • D107
    D107 Member Posts: 1,849
    Original question was somewhat rhetorical....

    It is clear that significant application of solar energy will be a long time coming but it and other energy solutions will come sooner if the government at least provides incentives for innovation and efficiency. There are researchers of solar and other new technologies that could not receive backing here and eventually found interest --and commercial sucess--abroad in places like Japan and Denmark--where some have won awards for their work.

    I can't say it better than this article by writer Tom Friedman:

    "...We don’t just need a bailout. We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement..." (see full article via link below.)



  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611

    Dave, Tom Friedman, makes some compelling points but I think, like so many others, he misses the core of our dilemma.

    I would argue that the American Dream it self needs to be reexamined. The suburban detached house (with lawn) which typifies middle class aspirations, is a prefect example of the kind of systemic inefficiency that we have designed into the infrastructure of our society.

  • Core of our dilemma

    is it your position then that the "American Dream" is the core of our dilemma? A house with a lawn and "middle class aspirations" should be replaced with what? A big commune in the city where government transport delivers the workers to the fields each day to tend the crops? I believe that this is being done in North Korea and it hasn't been working out so well for them so far. "Systemic inefficiency designed into the infrastructure of our society". Sounds like something Saul Alinsky would say. Here's another you might like: “The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself.”
  • doug_44
    doug_44 Member Posts: 4
    No apology needed Ed.

    Since it started on coal and burns coal now, it was very safe to think it always burned coal. It is not an everyday thing to change fuel twice.
  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611

    I don't want to sent people to reprograming camps, but I think it's fair to say we may need to reexamine our priorities. Fortunately there is no one American Dream. I don't know what the solution is, but it's clear to me that we are way off course. Our values are often lost in the commercialization of our aspirations.

    The suburban/tract mall development- fueled by our "free market" is a legacy we will pay for in ways much deeper than the bad loans that financed it. The house, lawn and 50 mile car commute shows utter disregard for ecological economics. I don't believe we can engineer our way to sustainability without changing the way we live.

    Does a "commune" necessarily equate to repression of the human spirit? Personally I find American culture somewhat lacking in the ideals it aspires to.

  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,289
    back to coal...

    We're looking into carbon sequestration, but coal is about 25% carbon and oil is about 20% carbon (they are black) and they are already sequestered! It might be cheaper to leave them in the ground and go after those negawatts Amory Lovins keeps talking about :~)

    My house uses about 10% of the energy of what the normal new home uses, as measured per unit of living space. If I can do it, than anybody can. Efficiency could be part of the new American dream.

    Yours, Larry
  • Interesting

    "I don't know what the solution is, but it's clear to me that we are way off course." Off course to where?

    "Does a "commune" necessarily equate to repression of the human spirit?" What if I don't want to live on the commune?

    "Personally I find American culture somewhat lacking in the ideals it aspires to." Which culture do you find meeting the ideals it aspires to?

    Are you sure you never read "Rules for Radicals"? You sound like you have an issue with private property since you are hung up on that house/lawn thing and you seem also to take issue with where a person decides to live, i.e. the 50 mile commute. And then you throw in the, "utter disregard for ecological economics" as some form of insult. Why do you keep using the term "we" when you seem to have it all figured out? Say what you really mean. You want the rest of us to fall in line with your world view. Just say it.

    I was sent to this site a few weeks ago by a contractor that posts here. I will not name him. I am in the process of putting the final touches on the plans for my new home. I am sure it would trouble you to know that my new home will be one hour from my office. I will also have a very big yard, 350 acres to be exact. The home will be built using the best construction practices possible. Very well insulated (not fiber glass), very tight. I chose how I wanted the house built. I do not need approval from you or anyone else where or how I build. I will not be made to feel guilty because I can afford to live where I live and drive what I drive. You want me to rethink my way off life until I agree with you? Never going to happen. What you really want is socialism. "Our values are often lost in the commercialization of our aspirations." That means capitalism. You already said you don't like free markets. Perhaps you would also prefer the government to tell me which heating system I must choose and how much money I have to pay for it? You should consider re-locating.

  • ScottMP
    ScottMP Member Posts: 5,884
    Comrade Markle

    " Personally I find American culture somewhat lacking in the ideals it aspires to. "

    I suggest than that you find another place to live.

    I personnaly don't want anyone telling me what I can aspire to. I have dreams and aspirations and as long as I don't break the law, the American Dream says I can work as hard as I want to obtain them.

    If your are so unhappy here, move on.


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  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611


    If your interested in the science of efficiency this is worth reading.


    It turns out that 73% is the absolute ceiling for efficiency in an internal combustion engine.

    If Toyota or honda could build a 100 mile/gal. engine they would own the automotive world. Fact is they already do, largly based on higher efficiency and quality.

    In practice internal combustion engines achieve 20-30%, this would seem to give some latitude for improvement,

    However 73% is based on ideal frictionless theoretical conditions. The highest efficiency actually acomplished by an internal combustion engine is 51%, this by a giant diesel ship engine.

    Hybrids permit conventional piston engines to run within their sweet spots of efficiency, the gains from this are not trivial but they are not earth shaking either.

    Hybrids get most of their advantage in urban stop and go conditions. On the highway there is not a huge difference.

    Let's imagine that it's possible to some day convert half of the energy in a gallon of gas into useful work. Even if we could violate the laws of physics and get all of the energy in each gallon we are still bound by the energy intensity of what we require. To get your mind around it use the muscle equivalency test , ie. imagine pushing. Even a 2340 pound 2009 yaris takes some serious energy to push around. I't my guess that even a car this size http://www.toyota.com/yaris/specs.html will never get 100mpg. it's too close to the ceiling, no free lunch as they say!

    Conspiracy thinking obscures the truth of our situation, and undermines the credibility of your cause.
  • Supply House Rick
    Supply House Rick Member Posts: 1,404
    Comrade Markle

    “How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”

    Ronald Reagan
  • Paul Fredricks_9
    Paul Fredricks_9 Member Posts: 315

    Sorry to disappoint anyone here, but I can see Scott M's point. And I see it more in the small things. Gas prices rise, oil is a finite commodity, yet people still insist on punching their gas peddle and keeping their house at 72 in the winter. Sure, it's their right to, but it makes me shake my head and say to myself, "Hey, don't you know we should try and use less?"

    I see it in recycling too. I know many people who toss returnable cans and bottles in the trash because it's too much trouble and they sure don't need the money. This is just an example, but I start thinking ahead and wonder about my grandchildren's world (who aren't born yet) and their grandchildren's world and wonder about the impact of our actions on them.

    The "I can do whatever I want" attitude is fine most of the time, but I try to keep in mind the negative impact of my actions on others. I'm not saying I'm perfect, but the status quot may not be serving us as well as it used to.
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