Thursday, March 15, 2007

Just Say No To Coal

That's what renowned NASA climate scientist James Hanson is suggesting, according to an article in Grist--that we should have a moratorium on building coal plants until the emerging technology for making coal a carbon-neutral energy source is a reality.
Coal currently supplies nearly half the electricity in the U.S., and is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than any other electricity source. The Department of Energy reported last month that 159 new coal-fired power plants are scheduled to be built in the U.S. in the coming decade, intended to generate enough juice for nearly 100 million homes. "If you build a new coal plant, you're making a 60-year commitment -- that's how long these plants are generally in use," explains David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center. "So we really need to avoid building a whole new generation of coal plants that use the old technology."Industry boosters tout the prospect of so-called "clean coal," but right now there is simply no such thing. Zero-carbon coal plants -- ones that will gasify coal, filter carbon dioxide from the vapor, then stow the CO2 underground -- are a long way off from commercial application. A handful of coal-gasification plants are in development, and could eventually be retrofitted with carbon-capture and -sequestration capabilities, but for now this pollution-storage technology is years away from even a working pilot phase. "Until we have that clean coal power plant, we should not be building them," Hansen told his D.C. audience. "It is as clear as a bell."

Then the esteemed scientist raised even more eyebrows by declaring that, come mid-century, any old dinosaur coal plants that still aren't sequestering CO2 ought to be "bulldozed."

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