February 12th, 2007
As I’m sitting here waiting for the hosts with the mosts, here’s the article in the Denver Post. A very hearty thanks to Nancy LaPlaca and Andy Bardwell for opening their home and hosting a welcome potluck — you know how it is in these things, the food is to die for (where did those photos go?). THANKS!!!
By Steve Raabe
Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated:02/11/2007 06:25:27 PM MST
“Clean coal” power plants: environmental epiphany or junk science?
The debate rages today in an ironic setting, nearby conference rooms booked by two disparate groups at the Marriott City Center in Denver.
The irony is intentional, said Nancy LaPlaca of environmental advocacy group Ratepayers United of Colorado.
Once her group heard that a utility consulting firm was holding a clean-coal seminar, she knew that hers had to be there to balance the pros with the cons.
Or at least pose some tough questions.
“We’re not necessarily opposed,” she said. “But we’re not sure it works.”
Denver-based Electric Utility Consultants Inc. will be charging a walk-in registration fee of $1,395 to industry insiders.
Ratepayers United, playing to budget-minded activists, will charge nothing for its seminar.
Xcel Energy is proposing a test plant in Colorado to assess a new technology, known as integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC. It will cost at least $500 million and possibly $1 billion or more.
The plants, instead of burning pulverized coal, convert coal to a hydrogen gas. The gas is then burned to create steam and spin electricity-producing turbines.
Pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide can more easily be removed from gas than from coal.
So far, so good.
But then the big question: What to do with the CO2?
In theory – but not yet in practice – IGCC plants can capture the carbon dioxide and pump it into spent oil and gas wells or vacated mines in a process known as sequestration.
Industry analysts and some environmental groups say that could be the key to reducing carbon emissions and their suspected link to global warming.
Yet no American power plant has successfully captured and sequestered carbon dioxide, even though a handful are classified as “capture ready.”
“Sequestration is an integral part of the puzzle,” said Perry Fontana, a vice president of utility consultant and engineering firm URS Corp. “We’re excited about the technology.”
Fontana will be one of the speakers at today’s utility and industry conference.
But officials of Ratepayers United – a group formed to oppose coal-burning power plants in Colorado – aren’t yet convinced that sequestration will work.
“Carbon capture and sequestration is not ready for prime time,” said LaPlaca, chairwoman of the group. “The technology is still 10 years away. It is so expensive and so unproven, why don’t we put more money into (conservation) and renewables?”
Speakers from the environmental group will push the idea of solar thermal power – using the sun’s heat for utility-scale power plants – which they say are clean, renewable and workable now at only slightly more cost than IGCC.
Xcel Energy, however, believes the clean-coal technology will work.
“Carbon sequestration is being done around the world – from Canada, to Algeria to Norway,” said Xcel spokeswoman Ethnie Groves. “Through our demonstration project, we’ll bring that technology to Colorado and more effectively capture carbon-dioxide emissions.”
Staff writer Steve Raabe can be reached at 303-954-1948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.