The dirtiest of fuels is taking a beating this week. Yet another proposed coal plant in the US was canceled due to concerns about carbon dioxide emissions.
In October, the Kansas Department of Health rejected a coal generating plant due to concerns about climate change. Then another coal plant proposal was nixed in Washington State based on worries about the carbon impacts to the atmosphere.
It seems this regulatory shift around carbon emissions has not been lost on the coal mongers of the world.
The cancellation this week happened in Wyoming - the number one producer of coal in the US with proven reserves of 62 billion tonnes. Rocky Mountain Power decided to pull the plug on their two proposed new generating plants due to uncertainties about future regulation about carbon emissions.
Dave Eskelsen, spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power, told the Casper Star Tribune:
“The situation the company finds itself in now is a significant amount of uncertainty about what climate change regulation might do to the cost of coal plants. Coal projects are no longer viable.”
Mr. Eskelsen may not like it, but he is right. This latest string of coal plant rejections is rooted in a significant decision from the Supreme Court this spring that carbon dioxide should be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. After years of using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for CO2, coal plants must finally account for this long-externalized cost.
State governments and power producers know that cleaning up coal would be almost impossible and very expensive. Coal releases more carbon than any other fuel and is responsible for about 40% of the six billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in the US each year.
There is loose talk about carbon sequestration at generation plants but existing technology is unproven and would cut deep into the bottom line that is driving coal’s expansion in the US market. The shift from regulators to consider emissions and climate change could be the beginning of the end for Big Coal in the US.
While the decision to cancel the latest coal plants in Wyoming is good news, there is still a long way to go. Wyoming currently cranks out more carbon dioxide in eight hours from coal generation that the entire state of Vermont in a year.
But as they say, the longest journey begins with a single step. The decisions in Kansas, Washington and now Wyoming are definitely a step in the right direction. For state governments and generating companies to be taking a hard look at carbon emissions from coal plants is bad news for the dirtiest of fuels.
This was published on DeSmog Blog on December 19, 2007