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Cleaning up coal in West Texas expected to help fuel SA and wring out the oil patch

Photo: Photos by Greg Harman, License: N/A

Photos by Greg Harman

Photo: , License: N/A

Larry Pickerel of Legato Resources

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Summit Energy’s Laura Miller


"Since history shows that new industries are the source of growth in an economy and mature industries tend to either maintain or lose jobs over the long term, effective incentives from an economic standpoint are those that address industries in the early adoption stage," meaning solar.

Trickier than bagging federal subsidies, however, is bringing the product to market. It's been a decade since a federal "clean" coal research plant dubbed FutureGen was announced by President George W. Bush. Defunded by the U.S. Department of Energy after cost overruns soured that administration, FutureGen has been picked up by the Obama administration and moved from Texas to Illinois. It has yet to break ground. Meanwhile, national energy demand has leveled off as the country's gas boom has dramatically undercut coal power prices sending dozens of coal plant plans to the scrap heap in recent years. For those reasons, TCEP's advance with Chinese backing surprised many. In a September market analysis, Chris Flavin at the Worldwatch Institute wrote, "Those who were betting on a big future for coal, including the future addition of costly carbon capture and storage technology, may want to rethink their plans."

While TCEP is certainly in the vanguard of the technology, Miller sees this as a "now or never" moment. "If we're not going to start capturing carbon now, when are we going to do it?" Miller asked. "The thing that really troubles me ... what's going to happen if none of these carbon-capture projects that are on the boards right now get built? How many more decades will we have to hear that 'Oh well, carbon-capture doesn't really exist. They tried and they failed. It's too expensive. The science isn't ready.' Then the average citizen will believe that you can't do carbon-capture, which is not true."

Farmers and oilfield operators will undoubtedly appreciate a closer source of fertilizer and CO2. Those concerned about our weirding weather will appreciate the sequestered carbon. But the irony of CO2 being sequestered even as it elevates more crude that will inevitably lead to the release of more greenhouse gas isn't lost on anyone. Neither is the big picture when it comes to coal.

"With new coal plants there is no way to meet the climate reductions that are needed," Public Citizen's Smith said. "So we're going to have to go on a campaign to retire these old coal plants."

As J.T. Deely has already been nominated, why not start there? And with so many alternative sources online or scheduled already for San Antonio, why wait?

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