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Tyrannosaurus Triceratops Charles KnightA dinosaur backed into a corner by a pack of smaller dinosaurs may be mortally wounded, but it's big and angry enough to do some serious damage in its death throes. The coal industry, long accustomed to being the Tyrannosaurus Rex of American politics, is on the ropes, battered by forces outside its control, but angry enough to damage people while it searches for an escape route.

Long term use of coal in the US is declining: “The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40% for the year, its lowest level since World War II. Four years ago, it was 50%. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30%.”

Coal’s decline is widely attributed to three reasons, which I’ve cleverly named EPA - Environmental Protection Agency, Price, Activists. One is far less important than the other two.

Congressional Republicans blame the EPA, but every time I've looked at "EPA regulations force this coal plant shutdown" cries, I've found a decrepit old plant shut down most months because maintenance costs are too high. EPA regulations are a relatively minor factor in coal plant shutdowns.

Most business analysts attribute coal’s fall to price. Coal’s price in the United States has stayed fairly stable, but prices of alternatives have plummeted. Natgas is at $2.50/MBTU - it was $9-10 during Bush years. Utilities are actively planning to replace older coal fired plants to natural gas. Things are so bad for Old King Coal that it’s fighting with two of its usual strong allies.

The electric utilities, formerly joined at the hip with coal, are now bailing on coal:

many now recognize that expending the political capital to fight for plants built in the middle of last century is not worth it -- especially when they can construct combined cycle natural gas facilities with relative regulatory ease while releasing roughly half of the emissions in the meantime.
A perfect storm is pulling the coal sector under: For example, “American Electric Power, meanwhile, has been one of the most vocal critics of EPA regs. But at the same time, it has admitted — according to Tierney’s paper — that its coal plants are running much less than intended because it is cheaper to operate the natural gas facilities.”

Today, Arch Coal announces layoffs of 750 employees, blaming "current market pressures and a challenging regulatory environment."

To top off matters, electric utilities and the coal barons are picking a fight with the railroads, normally the third member of their power-hungry pack, demanding that anti-trust exemptions be removed from railroads.

This will not end well for the tyrannosaurus, one hopes.

The business analysts don’t like to acknowledge the third reason why coal in the United States is decreasing: the activists. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal program takes credit for shutting down 169 coal plants in the United States since Dick Cheney announced a need to build 200 more plants.  

coal chartIt's important to not let up the pressure to shut down coal plants wherever they may be proposed. Coal's market-force-led decline may change if the market for natural gas picks up and renewables haven't yet reached grid parity. The tyrannosaurus may be down, but it's already planning its next move - a bolt overseas, one that is being aided by Obama's massive expansion of the Powder River Basin and the six Pacific Northwest terminals on the drawing boards.

Act locally to fight coal. Some examples:

* in Asheville, North Carolina, tell Progress Energy to move beyond coal

* in Austin, Texas, attend a volunteer orientation June 30

* if you care about clean air in the national parks, tell the EPA you want strong haze protection.

And while fighting coal, remember the alternative: the sun and wind, both of which have been around longer than the dinosaurs.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:38 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  this is a link-heavy version of (91+ / 0-)

    half the presentation I gave at Netroots Nation on "Coal and the Grassroots Fight For Environmental Justice." Big thanks to Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club, fellow panelists, and Sierra Club Beyond Coal folk.

    Panelist, Netroots Nation 2012, "Coal and the Grassroots Fight for Environmental Justice." @RL_Miller

    by RLMiller on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:35:52 PM PDT

  •  But, I thought COAL was CLEAN??? (19+ / 0-)

    Or at least that's what I learned from all those CLEAN COAL commercials that seem to follow me everywhere.

    Love will save you from the cold light of boring reality... But it won't save me -- SWANS

    by jethrock on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:42:59 PM PDT

    •  The only coal that's clean is in the ground. n/t (14+ / 0-)

      "Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World

      by Delta Overdue on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:56:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's certainly what this administration (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radical simplicity

      is saying at the moment (and has said in the past), but then it's an election year. From the first link:

      It was the second time in as many days that [White House energy adviser Heather Zichal] had to defend the administration’s relationship with fossil fuels. On Monday, she said the administration wasn’t “singing ‘Kumbaya’” with the natural gas industry and was committed to seeing coal burned “in a more environmentally friendly way.” ... “When it comes to our power regulations, what we’ve done is focus on a pathway for clean coal,” Zichal said Tuesday, citing money that’s been appropriated for research and development on coal as well as funding made available to “clean coal” projects with the 2009 stimulus law.
    •  When the idea of "Clean Coal" didn't fly... (7+ / 0-)

      Pennsylvanians began seeing ads like this:

      Now the argument is the EPA is "over-regulating" the industry and limiting this use of this "low cost" energy source.

      Yup....over regulating an industry which for years has managed to keep inefficient, highly polluting coal fired generating plants operating in the face of lawsuits from states downwind -- where the acid rain they generate has devastated forests and silently harmed the health of millions of their neighbors through air pollution.

      The over-regulated industry which for years has thumbed its nose at mining safety regulations....

      The over-regulated industry which has been able to chop the tops off mountains and push the waste into valleys, destroying water supplies and the environment.

      The over-regulated industry which has built huge and sometimes unstable impoundment areas for mining slurry, some of which have collapsed and caused widespread devastation to the surrounding area.

      Not far from where I live is a section of The Great Allegheny Passage....a bike and walking rails-to-trails gem which runs from Pittsburgh all the way to Washington DC.  The GAP is also a slice through the history of Pennsylvania and one of those slices passes by "Red Falls," a small waterfall which cascades over a cliff along the side of the trail.  It gets its name from the concentrations of iron sulfide in the rocks the water has exposed as it falls.

      That fall is highly acidic water, flowing from a now-closed coal mine which dates back over a century.  The legacy has been a century of continual pollution of waterways and it is just one small instance of a much wider problem nationwide....caused by those "highly regulated" coal and mineral miners.  (Out in California, one of the major problems today is mercury runoff from old mountain mines.)

      Today, Pennsylvanians stand and watch as their legislature has opened the door to a new predator....the fracking industry.  We're being bombarded with a new wave of ads telling us all how glorious this new "clean natural energy" is for our lives and our economies.

      Yes....replacing coal with natural gas will have a major impact on improved air quality, but unfortunately, the legislature has also done everything it can to limit regulation of this new industry.  The ads claim their work is safe and highly regulated, but already, local property owners and some towns are trying to sue them for leaking wells and destruction of underground aquifers.  But the legislature limited the ability of communities to even regulate.  

      The PA EPA's own database of the state's approved fracking projects, their locations, owners and other data, was missing major data because budget cuts had gutted the EPA staff.

      And over the next one to two decades, as the volume of complaints rise, as they surely will, where will those "clean and safe" energy companies be?  Most likely gone...with their profits, and those property owners and communities will be saddled with the costs of cleaning up the mess....if they have the means to do so.

      Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

      by dweb8231 on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 07:01:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Natural gas is also a fossil fuel. (11+ / 0-)

    We're not going to stop climate change by switching to natural gas.  It's a bit like quitting cigarettes to smoke a pipe instead.  I'm all for getting rid of coal - except maybe for BBQ - but I'm not a proponent of NG.

    Can't we just drown Grover Norquist in a bathtub?

    by Rezkalla on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:46:09 PM PDT

    •  Charcoal is wood. It's not coal that is mined. (20+ / 0-)

      Believe me... you wouldn't want to eat burgers made on a coal burning grill.

      Love will save you from the cold light of boring reality... But it won't save me -- SWANS

      by jethrock on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:51:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Right. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jethrock

        "Charcoal burning" (making charcoal out of trees, green plants etc.) deforested most of Europe before the days of burning coal.

        “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.” –Blaise Pascal

        by dskoe on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 07:15:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yup... and your point is???? (0+ / 0-)

          There is no question that using renewables is better than fossil fuels.

          Now do you want have a conversation about how we can grow more... And use less?

          Deforestation is a huge issue. So is desertification.

          Love will save you from the cold light of boring reality... But it won't save me -- SWANS

          by jethrock on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:56:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  my hope is for grid parity: (14+ / 0-)

      utilities realizing they're better off with renewables than either coal or natgas.

      Panelist, Netroots Nation 2012, "Coal and the Grassroots Fight for Environmental Justice." @RL_Miller

      by RLMiller on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:53:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was on the road in Eastern Oregon last week (5+ / 0-)

        The wind turbines are quite a site on the hills for miles.  I need to get up-to-speed on smart grid stuff, but I would love to see wind, solar, geo-thermal, conservation and smart-grid technology overtake the need to burn more carbon-based fuels.  It's the investment our Country should make.

        "Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World

        by Delta Overdue on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:27:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Even better, micro-generation (6+ / 0-)

        Have you noticed the drumbeats growing louder and louder for expanding the national grid? With claims that we need more "juice," that we need to move renewably-generated power longer distances, that the grid is "unreliable?"

        Bullshit.

        The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) shows that energy consumption has been dropping slowly but steadily for years.

        Wind developers are hoping to become Big Wind, replacing Big Coal as a primary source of power, by building forests of turbines in the midwest, then constructing massive transmission lines to carry the power to the population centers on the East and West coasts. Problem is, there's far more wind potential offshore from those coasts, and you don't need the huge transmission lines.

        There are two big "reliability" problems with the grid - first, the utility companies have been cutting back on O&M (operations and maintenance) expenses for years, never mind what they tell your state regulators. Just listen to one of their earnings calls, where the CEO usually brags to financial analysts about how his company has improved its bottom line in part by trimming O&M.

        Second, if you look at the two big blackouts of recent years - the East Coast in 2003, San Diego in 2010 - you'll find the after-action reports lay the blame squarely on ... operator (human) error. That doesn't stop the power companies from claiming the problem is with the grid, it's just that they lie.

        The reason the utilities may be touting renewables now? It's those new transmission lines they're hoping to build. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, during the Cheney/Bush administration, was given the authority to award "incentive" rates of return, well above market rates, for high-voltage transmission projects.

        They're turning transmission from a distribution method to a profit center. And the profits go on for decades!

        The best (most sustainable) way to make use of renewables is local generation, all the way down to the individual home level, with limited distribution networks that may connect to "the grid next door," so to speak, but that doesn't bear the burden of generation and transmission for areas hundreds of miles away.

        I can provide chapter and verse, with more links than a Jimmy Dean plant, for those who want them. Sorry for the rant.

        West Virginia's new motto: Ex Os, Ex Mens (go look it up)

        by blonde moment on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:28:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  offshore wind requires a MASSIVE investment (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          idbecrazyif

          in transmission. see http://atlanticwindconnection.com/ for example.

          and micro-generation is great for residential and commercial but troublesome for industrial.

          •  Not nearly as much as transmission (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jam

            Right now the pricetag to build out the Atlantic Wind Connection is $5 billion - though I don't know if that includes the cost of upgrading substations along the coastline to then distribute the power.

            The cost to expand the national grid? Estimated at $300 billion - and that doesn't include the forest of wind farms.

            (A new high voltage transmission line, Susquehanna-Roseland, has been approved for construction in southeastern PA to carry electricity to NJ. It's going to cost ratepayers in 13 states and DC more than $200 million, plus that incentive rate of return, to pay for building it - and it's going to save NJ ratepayers $22 million. I ask you - does that make sense?)

            Instead, why not develop an industrial policy that encourages companies to relocate to the Midwest to take advantage of cheap, close-at-hand electricity?

            In the meantime, utilities are girding to make it difficult (and expensive) for residential and commercial customers to move to micro and/or local generation. In Virginia, Dominion Power is asking the State Corporation Commission to impose a charge of as much as $100/month on residential customers who have switched to solar or other renewables and are selling extra electricity back to the company - to cover the cost of the wires connecting them back to the grid, don't you know?

            And you use the word "troublesome" about renewables for industrial power consumers. Okay, so let's develop better storage (which will benefit everybody).

            I certainly do not claim to have all the answers.

            But I do know that expecting our existing utility industry - which has been around for more than a century now - to think about, plan for, and execute a serious redesign of our national electricity infrastructure is akin to asking defense contractors to negotiate a peace treaty, or pharmaceutical companies to forego patent protections for the good of mankind. It ain't gonna happen.

            West Virginia's new motto: Ex Os, Ex Mens (go look it up)

            by blonde moment on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:17:28 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's $5B for 7 GW over 350 miles (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              blonde moment

              That's almost $15 M per mile. That's 10X the cost of overhead.
              ....
              or not...
              I wrote the above sentence, then I googled the S-R line you mentioned and that is apparently $500 million for 101 miles, or $5 M/mi - only 1/3rd the cost of the AWC.

              PJM peak was 160 GW in 2011. ISO-NE is another 28 GW.

              utilities are girding to make it difficult (and expensive)
              don't know where you live and/or work, but I can assure you industries have been fighting renewable energy long and hard for decades and Dominion is one of the worst.
              And you use the word "troublesome" about renewables for industrial power consumers. Okay, so let's develop better storage (which will benefit everybody).
              No, I used the word "troublesome" about micro-generation, not necessarily renewables. The trouble comes from the fact that residential and commercial customers generally don't give a rat's ass about power quality. They only care about reliability. Running high quality micro-generation for industrial purposes is difficult and it generally helps to have the grid as support.

              In any event, as a renewable energy engineer and a native son of West Virginia, I'm all for finding better energy solutions for the Mountain State.

              •  "only 1/3rd the cost of the AWC" (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                jam

                But S-R is intended to serve one small set of customers - New Jersey - while the AWC is intended to serve customers along much of the length of the Atlantic seaboard, definitely more than 3X as many.

                You're right about utilities fighting the switch to renewables; I was referring to one specific tactic that affects directly those individuals who want to switch to renewables. (Heaven knows they've got so many tricks up their sleeves I can't track them all.)

                Got your point about using the word "troublesome." Thanks for the clarification.

                And I appreciate the dialogue. As I said, I don't claim to know very much, and I can't make any claim to having solutions, just that ordinary people like us need to put the time and research in to find good solutions, 'cause the utilities are only interested in doing whatever it takes to maintain the status quo.

                West Virginia's new motto: Ex Os, Ex Mens (go look it up)

                by blonde moment on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:35:44 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  micro-generation its the solution for Residential (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RLMiller

            However as you point out there is still issues in how to get green for industrial. The power consumption of aluminum production requires the refinery to have its own plant on premises often.

            --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

            by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:23:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes, WVians know all about that (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              idbecrazyif, prfb, RLMiller

              Century Aluminum closed its WV plant several years ago. Now it wants to reopen, but only if it gets major rate concessions from Appalachian Power (the AEP subsidiary that provices electricity to much of the state).

              Problem is, of course, that if Century gets its steep, steep discounts, Apco will turn around and ask the state Public Service Commission to let it raise rates for residential customers, to make up the difference! And then other large power customers will ask for similar deals, and ratepayers will have to foot those bills, too.

              And our captive, servile PSC will go along because it will continue to maintain coal consumption ...

              West Virginia's new motto: Ex Os, Ex Mens (go look it up)

              by blonde moment on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:52:28 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  BP did the exact same thing here in Indiana (0+ / 0-)

                with its large refinery complex in the north west. AEP thankfully under Indiana regulatory commission rules was not allowed to give as steep a discount as they asked. It was however allowed to phase rate increases to residential and commercial buyers over the next 5 years.

                Its a damn shame how obvious the modus operadi is yet people tend to ignore it.

                --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

                by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:01:38 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  Iceland "exports" low carbon (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Calamity Jean, nathanguy

              electricity via aluminum.

        •  it doesn't have to be either/or (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          blonde moment, RLMiller

          Once we get to the point where renewables are 70% of the market, then we can quibble local vs. Big Wind.  But for now, I'd LOVE to see Big Wind go up against Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Natural Gas.  Clash of the titans--bring it on!

          •  I understand your point. And ... (0+ / 0-)

            (I didn't want to start a sentence with "but...")

            If we wait until there is such a thing as Big Wind, questions such as whether to build thousands of miles of new transmission will already have been settled. Ratepayers will already be on the hook for that $300 billion plus incentive rates of return that will last for as long as the "assets."

            West Virginia's new motto: Ex Os, Ex Mens (go look it up)

            by blonde moment on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:39:06 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  However (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nathanguy, RLMiller

          while I wholly agree (see my post above) we also need to have a huge change of heart.

          We need to use appropriate energy sources (coppiced wood for heat, water heating and some cooking rather than electric) and, as I'm sure you have noticed, we need to apply our resources appropriately.

          We haven't had an foreign holiday for a decade, our car is 1998 and will be run till the cost of the next repair exceeds its used vehicle replacement cost. We have an old CRT TV and wont be changing till it dies in about 20 years, if ever. It'll possibly outlive us.

          But we will be dropping $15k into the woodfired oven and installation, and another $8k or so for a green plug PV system.

          Because we paid off our mortgage a dozen years ago and refuse to buy anything we can't pay for in cash (we use Visa for the loyalty points only), we can afford all this stuff. But it has also meant taking some condescension over the years from terribly clever people, some of whom are now staring underwater homes and huge credit card debts in the face.

          Priorities. Until we get them right, the rest is just hot air, and yet not hot enough to perform any actual work.

          Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

          by Deep Dark on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 01:40:10 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Well, there's this: (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deep Dark, RLMiller, citizen dan

        http://www.dailykos.com/...  From June 19.  I hope/expect that as wind power becomes more common, natural gas will be more and more relegated to being backup power for cold windless winter nights, instead of being used for routine generation.  I've read that "fracked" gas wells tend to fall off in production much faster than "ordinary" wells.  That is likely to mean that in a few years natural gas will be considerably more expensive than it is now.  

        So I'm hoping it will go like this:  1. Power companies replace old falling-apart coal generators with generators burning cheap(ish) natural gas.  2.  Natgas gets more expensive, but electric companies can't go back to coal because they've demolished the old coal powerplants and building new ones would cost too much and bring too much public opposition.  So they slap their foreheads and say, "Wind!  Of course!" and build wind turbines all over the countryside.  3. Natural gas generators get reworked as intermittent-use backup power for hot sunny days and cold windless nights.  4.  Power companies say, "Solar!  Of course!" and promote/subsidise rooftop photovoltaic panels for every sunny roof, which combined with wind supplies nearly the whole demand for daytime power year-round.  

        Wind power is cost-competitive NOW.  Solar will be cost-competitive SOON.  In ten or fifteen years, coal power could be extinct and natural gas could be rarely-used backup power.  Will that be soon enough to prevent extinction-level climate change?  I have no idea.  I expect to live another 30 years, so I guess I'll find out.  

        Renewable energy brings national global security.     

        by Calamity Jean on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 11:30:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  p.s. Don't feel bad... I used to think the same (4+ / 0-)

      thing. When I learned that charcoal was not coal... I read a lot about the history of charcoal and how it's made.

      It's a pretty slow process of burning the wood without actually burning it.

      Now I order all natural charcoal online for grilling. It's actually cheaper than buying Kingford locally. Plus it doesn't have the chemicals and lighter fluid.

      Healthier.

      And for a fire starter I use some that are made from sawdust and beeswax.

      They are awesome. No chemicals. And actually work better than lighter fluids.

      Love will save you from the cold light of boring reality... But it won't save me -- SWANS

      by jethrock on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 05:02:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Half the CO2 per kwh is not nothing. n/t (5+ / 0-)

      Where are we, now that we need us most?

      by Frank Knarf on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 05:39:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  although "some say" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RLMiller, idbecrazyif

        yes, the irascible, un-sourced, internet "some" - that fracked NG is about the same as coal. Although I'm not sure if that's for just CT or combined cycle. If for CT, the efficiency gains in CC would make it about 1/3rd better.

        •  There is intangible costs right now (0+ / 0-)

          And thats mostly because there is no real hard data regarding it. Fracking though while a new procedure is relatively new regarding regulations and monitoring.

          We knew a few loose things right now. That being it causes methane shifts, possible plate instability, and possible ground water contamination. That alone should make us wary of embracing it with arms wide open.

          --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

          by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:25:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  natural gas can be run in a "combined cycle" (12+ / 0-)

      That means you can recover the explosive energy in a combustion turbine (much like an airplane engine) and then recover the thermal energy in a steam turbine.

      Coal fire power plants only utilize the thermal energy to make steam.  The explosive power is lost inside the boiler.

      Hence, natural gas (in combined cycle) can be significantly more efficient than coal when it comes to Btu/kwh or Btu/lb-CO2.

      •  you mean (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        freshwater dan

        http://en.wikipedia.org/...

        "The principle is that the exhaust of one heat engine is used as the heat source for another, thus extracting more useful energy from the heat, increasing the system's overall efficiency. This works because heat engines are only able to use a portion of the energy their fuel generates (usually less than 50%). In an ordinary (non combined cycle) heat engine the remaining heat (e.g., hot exhaust fumes) from combustion is generally wasted.
        Combining two or more thermodynamic cycles results in improved overall efficiency, reducing fuel costs. In stationary power plants, a widely used combination is a gas turbine (operating by the Brayton cycle) burning natural gas or synthesis gas from coal, whose hot exhaust powers a steam power plant (operating by the Rankine cycle). This is called a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant, and can achieve a thermal efficiency of around 60%, i"

    •  Natural Gas (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jam, RLMiller, Calamity Jean

      Produces about 50% of the CO2 per energy unit as does coal. Coal is also a very dirty fuel with respect to other pollutants as well.
        If there is ever a sequestration technology for CO2 (which is the pie in the sky basis for those clean coal claims) it will be much more effective if the fuel is natural gas.
        The best short term thing individuals can do is conserve energy, then rooftop solar. As a society, we need to make sure that any capacity expansion is based on renewables.

    •  Sshhh (0+ / 0-)

      Let them switch. That takes care of the ancillary pollution if not the CO2. Gas can be pumped rather than dug up and trucked so there are pluses in the energy cost of provision as well. Not much perhaps, but I'll take what I can get.

      When the price of NG goes through the roof, or it hits its peak, they wont be able to switch back to coal because there wont be enough money to build the plants. THEN, and only then, will we try the correct solution.

      USE LESS ENERGY.

      Its going to happen, we only get to choose whether we do it voluntarily ahead of time or get crammed into it by history.

      Meanwhile, I'm planning for my wood fired oven/water/space heater and managing my wood lot. What are YOU doing? (You as in everyone here BTW)

      Actually, that should be, "what are you DOING?"

      Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

      by Deep Dark on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 01:29:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The idea that gas is a good thing is equally... (10+ / 0-)

    ...disasterous.

    In it's time, people thought that coal was great stuff because it released humanity from dependence on wood.

    This is all discussed in Barbara Freese's wonderful book,Coal:   A Human History.

    Gas fields don't give warnings when they fail, by the way, and the rush to gas, it's climate effects notwithstanding, places humanity in a very precarious position.

    Nor is gas really safe, nor is it being mined in a sustainable way.

    There are NO fossil fuels that are acceptable, and they all should be phased out.

    All gas dependence will do is to create an opportunity for the gasification of coal on an emergency basis.

    Now is the time to abandon this unfortunate shell game and go nuclear.

  •  Sadly one of our cleanest transportation (11+ / 0-)

    industries (railroads and companies like CSX) are also big supporters of coal. Since coal is one of the most shipped commodities in this country via rail.  

    Love will save you from the cold light of boring reality... But it won't save me -- SWANS

    by jethrock on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:48:48 PM PDT

    •  44% of all tonage on Class I rails is coal (12+ / 0-)

      With less dependence on coal, railroads are starting to notice. There was some interesting statements from Norfolk Southern's CEO earlier this month on coal.

      Railway Age: Moorman: Putting coal in perspective

      There's no question about the importance of coal to the railroads. It has recently accounted for 44% of U.S. Class I railroad tonnage, 24.1% of carloads, and 24.2% of revenue. A mild winter coupled with abundant and cheap natural gas has led to a sharp decline in coal traffic—it was down 16% in the week ended May 10 and coke was down 9%.

      Financial analysts seeking to put this sobering news into the contest of the overall traffic picture received some help Tuesday from Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman, who told CNBC: "Coal is such an important part of our business that it obviously gets a lot of focus, but I do tend to think today people are probably looking a little too hard at coal, and not seeing all of these other good things that are going on."

      NS may be thinking how the railroad will be profitable if it loses a huge chunk of their business.
      •  Yup. Maybe they should consider transporting (17+ / 0-)

        more people?

        Love will save you from the cold light of boring reality... But it won't save me -- SWANS

        by jethrock on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 04:31:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, and electrify their lines to free themselves (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Joieau, jethrock

          from ever more expensive oil.

          Renewable energy brings national global security.     

          by Calamity Jean on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 11:39:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  ELECTRIFY? (0+ / 0-)

            Electricity produced using WHAT? And how much more would be needed if they did?

            Not to mention the energy, financial and materials costs of building the extra generation capacity.

            Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

            by Deep Dark on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 01:45:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wind and solar power. (0+ / 0-)
              Electricity produced using WHAT?
              Start with the most heavily used sections, and expand as power becomes available.  When trains brake, regenerated power could be fed back into the line to be reused.  Using renewable electricity for train power could help overcome the "intermittent" nature of wind and sun that so many are worried about.  If the power supply is reduced because of cloudiness or lack of wind, low-priority freight could be parked on a siding to cut power usage.  Passenger trains and perishable freight would continue to move.  

              Renewable energy brings national global security.     

              by Calamity Jean on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 08:10:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  CJ (0+ / 0-)

                Its a good try, but have you done the calcs for how many wind towers you need to power even one train and what are the financial, energy, materials and time costs of building them?

                Electricity is a high grade energy, perfect for lights, computers and intermittent stuff but crap for heating, cooking and motive power. The energy losses (assuming renewable production) in transmission and conversion to mechanical movement are enormous.

                Regenerative braking would help, but the biggest problem is getting a couple of thousand tonnes moving in the first place. You need to be able to apply massive levels of force for the first couple of minutes and the grid has to be able to sustain that. Stopping a train for a couple of hours might not even save any net energy.

                It works over compact networks or in places like underground where fumes are a problem, but long distance electrification, I seriously doubt the economics of it under any scheme.

                Add to that the rising cost of all energy and the imminent failure of the gas market and all of the factors, energy supply, time to production of new facilities and financial resources are all against it.

                Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

                by Deep Dark on Sun Jun 24, 2012 at 01:22:01 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  The diesels (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jethrock, JeffW

            for all kinds of shipping - rail, truck and ship - could be using biodiesel if we developed the ag/recycling and production infrastructure. Thereby cutting petroleum consumption for shipping by the percentage - 20% to 50% with little to no retrofitting of seals and injectors, 100% if those are done.

        •  And lots more (0+ / 0-)

          general freight. Semis are not very efficient ways to ship goods to across country.

      •  How about improving intermodal service? (7+ / 0-)

        I am great at over-simplifying, but trains are WAY more efficient at moving freight than trucks. It seems like it wouldn't be too hard to get more semi-trailers onto rail cars for much of their journeys.

        Not to mention our roads have so many heavy trucks on them now, a lot of people still choose to drive big personal vehicles for improved safety.

        "Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World

        by Delta Overdue on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:40:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  If my back of the envelope calcs were correct (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RLMiller, Magnifico, Calamity Jean, Joieau

        a couple of years ago, I did a quick calc that showed that there is actually more oil "in the grid" coming from trains moving coal than there is in oil-fired electricity generation. There were about equal with trains having a slight edge.

    •  Warren Buffet bought his railroad precisely b/c .. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jethrock, Magnifico, Larsstephens

      ..of coal exports overseas.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. www.hamiltonproject.org

      by PatriciaVa on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 04:36:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I liked your presentation at NN12 (5+ / 0-)

    "We don't need someone who can think. We need someone with enough digits to hold a pen." ~ Grover Norquist

    by Lefty Coaster on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:59:52 PM PDT

  •  Big Coal "Desperate" to export to save itself (17+ / 0-)

    Ecotrope @ OPB: “Desperate” To Export: A Coal Industry Close-Up

    You used the word “desperate” in one of your stories. Why is this a desperate situation?

    It’s not getting sold much in the U.S., and you can make a lot of money shipping this coal to Asia to those massive power plants in China and the ones being proposed in India. There’s nowhere to go. You have this product, and it can make you a lot of money. It’s fairly inexpensive to produce, and there’s just nowhere to ship it. It’s the cause of much frustration. So you have some coal companies go to Vancouver and say, “We’ll pay you this much if we can ship it out,” and you have the general manager at  Vancouver at West Bank Terminals say, “Sorry, but no.” He’s told me ‘That’s my least favorite part of the job is saying no, we can’t have your money.’”

    They’re expanding absolutely as fast as they possibly can. The Canadian coal industry is expanding as well, and they’ve locked in the contract. So, it’s very frustrating for coal companies to have this commodity that can obviously improve their bottom lines and just nowhere to get it out. And they’re paying the money to send it far-reaching places like Ridley or the Great Lakes or the Gulf Coast. But obviously their margins would be much better if they could ship it off the West Coast and that’s why the desperation is there to really improve margins.

    Big Coal is has to get West Coast coal ports in order survive. That's why big western coal states, like Montana, has a governor who is trying to sell the Pacific NW on coal ports.

    That's why, as David Roberts at Grist writes, fighting coal export terminals matters. Stopping new coal ports along the West Coast will keep Big Coal in the U.S. on the decline. He writes:

    This is a case where local activist fights against fossil-fuel projects matter not just for the politics of climate change, but for climate change itself. They matter for China — how much it pays for coal, how much it burns, and how fast it develops alternatives. And they matter for the U.S. The American coal industry is on the ropes. Preventing export terminals can keep it there.

    The activist instinct to harry coal at every stage — mining, transport, export, power plant — is the right instinct. Coal is the enemy of the human race. It needs to be kept in the damn ground.

    •  Yes, Yes, Yes! As I type this, a coal train rolls (6+ / 0-)

      by a block away on it's way to the plant in Centralia.  Fortunately, that plant is scheduled to shut down.  Sadly, that's not until 2025.  We sure as hell don't need to be exporting tens of millions of tons of coal to Asia!  The Sierra Cub Beyond Coal campaign has made some progress impeding approval of these export terminals, but the work never stops.  I'm hoping to get the city I live in to adopt a resolution against train traffic feeding these terminals.

      "Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World

      by Delta Overdue on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:50:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Coal use in Asia is skyrocketing... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AmericanAnt

      You did not comment on that top line of rapidly increasing use of coal in Asia in that graph in your diary.  Both China and India are building coal electric plants rapidly.  Even if we were to stop all coal burning in the USA, we are all screwed in terms of global warming if China and India are not forced to stop using coal for electricity.  At the present time, there is nothing, either internally or externally that will make that happen.  

  •  From the dinosaur to the dragon :-( (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller, Flying Goat, Odysseus

    Natural gas may be even worse than coal.

    The point is nobody knows how much methane escapes into the atmosphere unburned.  Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. And then there is fracking...

    Best,  Terry

  •  Coal is not a dying dino (5+ / 0-)

    its just run offshore where it is now a healthy happy fire breathing Chinese dragon .

    "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

    by indycam on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 05:07:29 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for such a great diary (8+ / 0-)

    It's being passed around FB now in the NW coal groups. I'm with Citizens for a Clean Harbor, here in Hoquiam. I'll send this to our mailing list also.

    I really appreciate all the links- I'll be spending a lot of time clicking.

    ps: Our Port Commissioners sent an email at 3pm announcing a special Port Meeting with Jay Inslee at noon tomorrow (!) - to explain to him: "The purpose of the meeting is a tour of port facilities and discussion with Mr. Jay Inslee (candidate for Washington State Governor) on topics relating to the history, growth, operations and future of the Port." We're not certain if this is open to the public (!) but many of us will show up.

    If you recommend a book, and provide an Amazon link, you are never, ever allowed to bitch about book stores closing up.

    by SeattleTammy on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 07:07:06 PM PDT

  •  Thx for the great column - and on the export front (6+ / 0-)

    it looks like we have a significant victory with respect to the Cherry Point proposal (the proposal that's biggest at 48MTPY and  farthest along).

    The best available information indicates that we will now get 120 days for our EIS scoping public comment period, a critical time for concerned people to raise concerns.

    Some concerns will be raised.

  •  This is a great diary (9+ / 0-)

    and a lot of this is the collapse in nat Gas prices.

    I do feel a twinge, though, when I see us celebrate the loss of union jobs with no obvious source of replacement for the people effected.

    This is why there has been tension between unions and environmentalists.  

    I say this as the grandson of a union shop steward.

    The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

    by fladem on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:04:36 PM PDT

  •  I'm part of the Beyond Coal campaign (7+ / 0-)

    Living a block from the main BNSF line between Portland and Seattle, the proposed Northwest Export terminals are a big deal to me.  This goes way past being a "NIMBY".  The length of the trains required to move the quantities of coal talked about are huge.  There are crossings that would cause huge traffic impacts along the route, including increased response times from EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement.  There are so many reasons this is a bad idea.  

    If we export 100 million tons of coal/year, that's 286 million tons of CO2 going into the air, and 6,333 pounds of mercury released every year.  (Based on the fact that for every pound of coal burned, 2.86 pounds of CO2 are generated and the recorded EPA mercury emissions from the Transalta plant in Centralia, Washington for 2009.)

    Our Planet can not sustain an assault like this and still be habitable for many species.

    "Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World

    by Delta Overdue on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:22:27 PM PDT

  •  Best long term replacement for coal powerplants... (4+ / 0-)

    ...is molten salt nuclear reactors.  Coal plants provide baseload electric power, which is hard to duplicate with wind or solar.  Safe, meltdown-proof molten salt reactors running on either low-enriched uranium or (eventually) abundant thorium are the greenest replacement for coal.  They would generate no CO2, operate with very high burn-up rates, create very little waste, have high capacity factors and could provide very inexpensive electricity & heat.  Existing pressurized water nuclear plants were never the best idea.  Time to take nuclear into the 21st century.

    Obama is still my guy.

    by AKguy on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 12:33:19 AM PDT

    •  "Time to take nuclear" ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joieau

      ... to its grave!

      The money changers Jesus threw out of the Temple are back as the GOP, using his corpse as a ventriloquist's dummy. (Hat tip to Kossack "Stuart Heady")

      by WereBear Walker on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:46:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I used to be against nuclear power. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      idbecrazyif

      Climate change has altered the equation.

      Art is the handmaid of human good.

      by joe from Lowell on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:52:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Even then we have to be mindful (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean

      That nuclear is no silver bullet. There are still global warming costs that are tangible and intangible surrounding nuclear. Processing takes power, extraction takes power, etc...

      Unless we by some miracle find a way to run mining equipment on electricity from renewable sources, we're still going to be burning dead dinosaurs to dig up that uranium.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:30:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  WV Senator Rockefeller (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cordgrass, RLMiller, Calamity Jean

    can read the handwriting on the wall. In a split with the WV Congressional delegation Rockefeller says coal industry needs to 'face reality'

    "Idiocracy. It's not a comedy, it's a prophecy."

    by wv voice of reason on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:19:20 AM PDT

  •  Sustainable Sources, Conservation and Natural Gas (4+ / 0-)

    These are the three elements of a transition world to sustainability. Natural Gas in a combined cycle fast response power plant is the ideal companion to wind and solar. When wind and solar are producing energy the gas turbines can be throttled back, when the load is at peak and sustainable sources are not available the gas turbines can be throttled up.

    Current generation combined cycle gas plants are 60% efficient. When they can be combined with co-generation they have achieved as much as 90% overall energy efficiency.

    We must get serious about conservation. This is really the low hanging fruit. We waste most of the energy that we generate because our buildings are not well insulated and our appliances are not as efficient as they should be, especially lights. In the US we can achieve a factor of better than two in energy efficiency. Combine this with solar, wind and offshore wind and high-efficiency natural gas and we are down to a tiny fraction of CO2 generation compared to today. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that we can eliminate 75% of total CO2 generation from the electrical power sector with these three techniques.

  •  Over 100 premature deaths a year (5+ / 0-)

    here in Birmingham from the three old coal-fired power plants surrounding the city.

    The local ENT's call it BARN - Birmingham Acid Rain Nose.

    Southern Company has said it will continue to operate the plants and pay fines when the new EPA regs kick in...... pass the cost of the fines along to local consumers.

    Since the own the elected regulators (along with any other elected official they wanna own), they will probably be able to get away with the rate hike.

    But I wonder if they will be able to make political hay with this maneuver given the national shift described in this diary.

  •  Natural Gas is Cheaper Mostly Due to Fracking (4+ / 0-)

    I suppose even fracking-derived natural gas is 'cleaner' than strip-mined coal, but it's not exactly a choice that makes me happy.

  •  EPA regs may play a small role in... (4+ / 0-)

    shutting down old coal plants, but they play a huge role in the absence of new coal plants being constructed.

    At last year's Power Gen conference in Las Vegas - a trade group convention for the commercial power industry - the natural gas people put together a presentation in which they identified three drivers for the growth of natural gas:

    1. The demand driver - there is growing demand for electric power.

    2. The cost driver - natural gas is incredibly cheap right now.

    3. The regulatory driver - the EPA is absolutely hammering the coal industry, making natural more economical.

    One other point: you quote the predictions about how fast coal's share of total power generated is dropping - down to 40%, expected to be 30% at the end of the decade - but it's worth noting that the decline has consistently outpaced predictions for the past couple of decades.  If they're predicting 30% at the end of the decade, then it will probably be even lower.

    Art is the handmaid of human good.

    by joe from Lowell on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:48:51 AM PDT

    •  In China coal is still King (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cordgrass, RLMiller, Calamity Jean

      "...The People's Republic of China is the largest consumer of coal in the world, and is about to become the largest user of coal-derived electricity, generating 1.95 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, or 68.7% of its electricity from coal as of 2006 (compared to 1.99 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, or 49% for the US). Hydroelectric power supplied another 20.7% of China's electricity needs in 2006..."
      wiki:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

      It's an interesting wiki:
      "...China's coal mining industry is the largest and also deadliest in the world in terms of human safety where thousands of people die every year in the coal pits, compared to 30 per year for coal power in the United States..."
      Stunning!

  •  Great diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Notreadytobenice, RLMiller

    Its important to note as you mentioned that coal exports have increased exponentially in the last 8 years. So that while we might be using less coal here domestically in the long term we are actually burning MORE over all as production and procurement of coal has not fallen.

    So in short we are burning more nat gas, but we're offloading the burning of coal in other nations as we export our total production.

    --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

    by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 06:16:39 AM PDT

  •  The only problem with this (6+ / 0-)

    wonderful scenario of moving beyond dirty coal is what happens in those areas where coal mining is the ONLY source of employment that pays a livable wage? A lot of these areas are in abject poverty without coal, and there's no plan to help them when coal becomes economically unviable.

    •  absolutely it is a problem that needs to be (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLMiller, Magnifico, Calamity Jean

      addressed - but NOT by continuing the coal legacy.

    •  Environmental restoration work could employ many (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jam, Magnifico, RLMiller

      people in the Appalachian states and perhaps out west, too.  I don't know just how labor-intensive it is, but it seems like there'd be opportunities for unskilled, semi-skilled and technical employment.

      It wouldn't be economically "viable" from Wall Street's point of view, but how much of the Pentagon budget goes to "viable" economic activity?

      Have you noticed?
      Politicians who promise LESS government
      only deliver BAD government.

      by jjohnjj on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 08:58:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Polly anna fix but it would make the Appalachian (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean, citizen dan

      states an economic power house over night would be for the total legalization of marijuana. The three state area of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia is the largest grow area in the nation and supplements nation consumption at something like 40% last I read.

      --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

      by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 09:34:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't care about the coal companies but (0+ / 0-)

    consider the miners and the economies of East Kentucky and West Virginia.  What is going to happen to us?  Will we go extinct too?  

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