Coal in Your Stocking This Morning?

By Peter Andrew – ConservativeAmerican.org
Leading the way Right with unique and fun, conservative news and views.

Hopefully none of you actually received a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking for being on Santa’s naughty list. But, if you did, don’t feel so bad. Coal actually is a good thing!

President Obama is waging a personal War on Coal, hoping to eliminate the entire industry. And, he’s using myths to do it.

The American Coal Council is helping us this week to get rid of some of the myths you may have been told or taught about coal.

Myth 3 – Wind-based generation is capable of replacing coal.

Fact: The development of renewable energy helps to support a diverse and stable electrical generation portfolio and wind and other renewables do play an role in helping to provide the electricity that we rely on to run our daily lives. However, the current state and costs of wind-based energy generation make it technologically and economically not feasible for wind to replace coal-based generation, now or well into the future. Furthermore, given the current state of renewable and energy storage technologies, mandating the use of wind in place of coal can actually have the perverse outcome of increasing overall emissions.

coal chart2

Current generation numbers show that coal produces approximately 42% of American electricity. EIA data for November 2012 indicates that coal produced 42.2% of our electricity, while wind and solar together generated less than 4.0%. While coal use has declined overall in the past few years, coal saw a 6.2% growth from the same period in 2011. The figure to the right gives some indication of the relative amount of coal-based generation this country uses vs. other energy sources. It hints at the sheer scale and cost of the task some have set for themselves when they talk of replacing coal with wind.

If we somehow manage to overlook the cost and scale of that task, we are still left with the fact that wind cannot act as a baseload energy supply. It has approximately a 25 – 30% capacity factor because wind is an ephemeral resource – it doesn’t blow 100% of the time. Because of this reality, you will always need some means of storing excess wind power so it can be used to smooth out spikes and lulls in generation caused by changing wind patterns and speeds. At present, there are some small-scale ideas being researched and used around the country, but they remain a very expensive addition onto an already expensive generation option. Furthermore, those storage options have a limited capacity, meaning they are limited in both size and number. Without an option or means to store massive amounts of power, “utilities need to maintain permanently online back up generation “with capacities equal to 90% of (their) installed wind power capacity … to guarantee power supply at all times.” This means that utilities have to build and maintain almost double the generation capacity they would need if they were simply building coal, nuclear, gas, or hydro. (As we have noted in Myth #1 (above), as well as in posts on the Coalblog and in American Coal magazine, that firming power in today’s world means coal or natural gas.) That reality leads to massive expansions in the cost of providing electricity, which means your electric bill has to grow to cover those costs.

Recent studies are now compounding this problem by showing that the useful service lives of wind installations are far less than originally forecast. Real world findings in Denmark and the UK indicate “that the economic life of onshore wind turbines is between 10 and 15 years, not the 20 to 25 years projected by the wind industry itself, and used for government projections.” Cutting the productive (economic) life of these wind installations by 45% means they will need to be replaced and repaired far sooner than expected. Shorter life spans, increased replacement and repair costs necessarily entails that the cost of wind power is far more expensive than originally forecast.

Adding to these difficulties is the fact that one of the key reasons for the push to replace coal with wind – emissions reductions. It is coming to light that renewable portfolio standards (RPS) may have had serious negative unintended consequences in Colorado, Texas, and other areas around the world. Bentek’s “Wind, Coal and Gas in Colorado: How less became more” demonstrated that mandating the use of wind generation forced coal and natural gas generating units to operate in an inefficient manner (a process called “cycling,” where those units are forced to ramp up and cut back on generation rapidly in response to wind’s variable nature). In many instances over a four year study period, this cycling actually “(added) to the air pollution problem” by causing increases in emissions of CO2, NOX, and SOX. Other studies and utilities are arriving at similar conclusions.

Natural gas used as wind back-up in place of baseload or intermediate gas (in the absence of wind) results in approximately the same gas burn and an increase in related emissions, including CO2. ConservativeAmerian.org supports the use of natural gas including the fracking process. Extrapolating from this example to the whole, the working hypothesis is that intermittent wind (and solar) are not effective CO2 mitigation strategies because of inefficiencies introduced by fast-ramping (inefficient) operation of gas turbines for firming otherwise intermittent and thus non-usable power.

Adding to this challenge is, Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark’s largest energy utilities) tells us that “wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that “Germany’s CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram,” and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.Poorly designed policy is, therefore according to the ACC, putting utilities in the difficult position of being forced to choose between meeting environmental regulations and providing sufficient and affordable energy.

At the end of all of this discussion is the fact that there are still very strong forces arrayed against the development of new energy generation and transmission capacity. As was demonstrated in Issue 1, 2010 of American Coal magazine, the extreme green’s NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mindset is having a profound impact on wind and other renewable energy development. While many green groups make a big deal out of the number of permits and applications for coal plants that have been denied, the reality is that there have been more renewable projects cancelled than coal plants and nuclear plants added together. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted in their American Coal magazine article, of the 381 projects listed in their database, 167 are renewable projects that have been delayed or killed, 129 are coal projects, 41 natural gas, 20 nuclear, and 24 transmission. Take a look at the Chamber’s Project-No-Project website for up to date information on the NIMBY’s push to stop the development of new energy generation capacity.

Tomorrow, we’ll tackle another coal myth.

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