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Double Dealing on Carbon

Will the environmental lobby be even-handed with utilities?

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2007

Service Commission on Aug. 23, 2005, approving KCP&L’s plan for building the plant (Iatan 2).

At the time, Melissa Hope, a spokeswoman for Missouri Sierra Club, said in a release: “KCP&L tried to do something outside of the public process to gain approval to build an expensive and dirty coal-burning power plant.” Spoken like the die-hard environmentalists that we all used to know. Have they really changed their stripes?

Asked whether the agreement between KCP&L and the Sierra Club could prevent another environmental group from coming along and reinstating the legal challenges to its coal plant, a spokesman for KCP&L said the agreement does not prevent similar challenges. So, we’ll see.

Coal and Nuclear is Not an Option

The Raleigh News & Observer carried a story recently about how opponents to Duke Energy’s coal plant contended that the utility could meet future demand with energy-efficiency and alternative-energy solutions.

That’s a ridiculous claim. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates of future power demand, and a recent MIT study, show that coal will be a significant part of the supply mix under any scenario.

Another preposterous claim is that the industry might avoid building nuclear by building more renewable technologies. Just listen to John G. Rice, vice chairman of General Electric, who spoke at CERAweek 2007 earlier this year:

“Nuclear has to be a part of the equation. If you think about the U.S. just over the next 40 or 45 years, most of the plants that exist today will run to the end of their useful life and have to be decommissioned, which brings somewhere around 100 GW offline,” he said.

“Some people would like to think that wind can take up the slack. Well, it simply can’t take up the slack. You would need somewhere around 150,000 to 170,000 wind turbines to fill all the demand left from nuclear. At 50 acres a copy, which is roughly the amount of space that you need to put a wind turbine in, you are talking about the land the size of seven states of Rhode Island. So, the fact of the matter is that you are not going to see a world without nuclear and see that slack taken up by wind,” he says.

Rice calculates a need of more than just one or two plants to be started in the United States. He says one or two nuke plants should be started every year for the next 20 or 30 years, “or you are going to have a problem.”

Coal remains significant in any scenario, he says. “Just over 50 percent of the U.S. power generation comes from coal. And that is a lot higher in China and India, for example. You can’t imagine how those countries can accomplish their goals without coal. We and others are working on technologies around coal gasification. They are very promising. They are technically viable. They are still more expensive than they need to be. And the cost has to come down before they can become widespread,” Rice declared.

“Anybody that suggests we have seen the last pulverized-coal