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Changing the Fuel Mix: Time for a Nuclear Rescue?

Gas-fired power is king today, but fuel diversity needs and new technologies may open the door for nuclear and coal.
Fortnightly Magazine - September 1 2002

Agency reports that electricity from coal has made enormous environmental progress in recent years. Through more than $50 billion in investments over t he last three decades, emissions from coal-fired plants have declined by over 20 percent, even as co al use has tripled, it said.

Fuel-Neutral Energy Policy?

One believer in the future of coal is Peabody Energy, the world's largest private sector coal co mpany. Peabody already has in place plans to build two pulverized coal plants. The Prairie State En ergy Campus will be a 1,500-MW baseload coal-fired plant in Washington County, Illinois and is locate d at an adjacent underground mine. It is expected to come on-line in 2006 or 2007. The Thoroughbred En ergy Campus will be a 1,500-MW coal-fueled plant near Central City in Kentucky, and like Prairie Stat e will be a mine-mouth plant. It is expected to come online between 2005 and 2007.

Peabody Energy boasts that the Prairie State and Thoroughbred Energy plants both will be equipped with advanced generation and emission controls in order to burn the areas' higher sulfur coals. Desu lferization technology is projected to remove about 97 percent of the plants' sulfur dioxide emissions using a wet limestone system. Low nitrogen oxide (NOx) combustion technologies and selective catalytic reduction significantly will cut NOx emissions by 75 percent. And advanced fabric filtration and c ontrol devices are expected to remove 99 percent of particulate matter.

But despite such advances, Peabody Energy believes it possible that there exists a bias against coal. Pollution concerns have led to the domination of gas-fired projects in the new plant construction market in recent years. That is precisely the allegation made by Peabody Energy's subsidiary, Prairie State Generating Co., in a filing at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over the proposed plant interconnection agreement with Illinois Power. Prairie State asked whether FERC's policy still is fuel-neutral. (Docket No. ER02-1400-00 filed Mar. 28, 2002, protest filed Apr.18, 2002.)

"The FERC's articulated standard interconnection polices have been skewed in favor of the needs of these smaller natural gas-fired generators and not the needs of new baseload generation that would satisfy the needs for abundant, low-cost electricity," Prairie State argues. "It is a disservice to national energy policy and its pronounced goals to create disincentives to large-scale coal-fueled generation projects," it adds.

On May 15, FERC accepted the unexecuted interconnection agreement, subject to refund. Chairman Pat Wood suggested that FERC might well make some changes in its pending generation interconnection docket to ensure that such agreements for generating plants remain "fuel-neutral," and do not discriminate in favor of gas turbines and against traditional, base-load coal boilers.

"We need coal," he added. "As we are striving to remove barriers to gas-fired generation, it is important we do it for coal-fired generation too," Wood said.

"This order comes out fine," he added, "but we want to make sure we fix it in the broad picture and rulemaking." Commissioner Linda K. Breathitt, who is from Kentucky, agreed. "Coal is such a huge part of our economy," she said.

Peabody Energy