Saturday, March 16, 2013

REAL energy solutions versus fantasy

Joe Nocera's March 16, 2013 NY Times column on Saturday March 16 argues that a coal power plant to be built in Texas starting this summer is a "real climate solution."  How? By using "gasified coal" - coal that has been converted into a mixture of combustible gases such as hydrogen gas and non-combustible gases such as carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. The combustible gases produce energy while the non-combustible ones, including the carbon in the original coal are...stored. This, the argument goes, has the potential to allow us to use coal while emitting only 10% of the carbon.

So, how could the environmentalists like Bill McKibbon, who Nocera ridicules in his column, oppose it? Well, for one thing, no one has demonstrated the feasibility of the carbon storage methods that lie at the heart of the plan. If we can't store the carbon, it winds up in the atmosphere and fuels climate change. And we are years away from proving we can do this. The National Academy of Engineering, for example, lists "Develop carbon sequestration methods" as one of its 14 "Grand Challenges" for engineers. Right after harnessing fusion. Yeah, that's realistic in the near future.

Nocera ignores the fact that there are already "real climate solutions" - economical wind and solar power that should obviate the need for any new coal plants, or fossil fuel plants, in general. New wind generation is already cheaper than a new coal power plant; natural gas is cheapest, but only because of the current glut in the market. And technology is bringing prices of wind and solar down all the time. Meanwhile, coal gasification and carbon capture technology is not only unproven - it is enormously expensive!

We already have the technology to move beyond fossil fuels. The technologies to harness wind, water, and sunlight to fuel our energy needs are already in place - here is one plan to wean New York State off of fossil fuels by 2050. 

So why has Nocera jumped so publicly onto this bandwagon? He has a history of vilifying environmental advocates - Bill McKibbon this week and James Hanson on March 4. Neither charge was justified.

So c'mon Joe. Stop writing about things you know nothing about.


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