Category Archives: Fossil Fuels

Kansas Coal Plant Controversy Mounting

Submitted by amyguinan on November 5, 2010 – 10:05am

“As goes Kansas, so goes the Nation” – and Kansas is taking on coal.

In 2007, Kansas Environmental Chief Roderick Bremby drew the attention of the nation as the first state regulator to use greenhouse gas emissions as a reason to reject an air quality permit to build the proposed Sunflower coal plant in western Kansas. He declared carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed plant would be a public and environmental health risk and noted the risks of global warming. The Legislature later changed the laws, allowing the coal plant to proceed.

After Bremby denied the permits, Sunflower launched a legal and legislative battle. The state legislature voted to allow the new plants, and Governor Sebelius – who has since become Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services – vetoed the bill three times.

On Nov 2nd, as midterm elections dominated the news, Kansas’ newest Governor, Mark Parkinson, fired Bremby.  And Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is back again with a deadline looming.  In January of 2011, new federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions begin to take effect.  If Sunflower receives a state air-quality permit before that date, its propsed plant will be grandfathered under the current standards.

“It was a midnight execution,” says NRDC senior advocate Theo Spencer. “When everybody’s eyes were on the election, the governor fires the guy who was responsible for protecting public health and the environment so he can ram this power plant through against public opinion.”

Scott Allegrucci, director of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE), says “there isn’t anyone in the state who doesn’t know what this was about.” He’s certain Bremby was removed to clear the way for someone willing to expedite the air permit for Sunflower’s proposed 895-megawatt coal plant in western Kansas and allow it to avoid the looming EPA rules.

For more information, visit:

Continued Reliance on Coal Will Lead to Higher Utility Bills

Submitted by Amy Guinan on November 4, 2010

With growing foreign demand, diminishing “economically-feasible” coal reserves, and rising mining costs, since October of 2009, the price for a one- month contract for Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal, a main Colorado supplier, has risen 67 percent to $13.80 a ton.  Powder River Basin coal has historically been priced at $5 a ton.

With almost 60 percent of Colorado’s electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, the increasing cost of coal will likely continue to be reflected in rate-payers electricity bills.  Xcel Energy, for instance, has had three rate increases in the last 4 years in part to pay for construction of the utilities’ newest coal-fired power plant, Unit III, in Pueblo, CO.

And current electricity prices don’t take into account the impact of possible legislation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide at the federal and state level. “Legislation that’s now stalled in Congress could have placed up to a $17 charge on a ton of carbon emissions. Burning a ton of coal creates about 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide.”

For more information, visit the CEA Coal Supply Constraints Report: Coal_Supply_Constraints_CEA and the Denver Post article on rising coal costs.

Hefty Price Tags for Indiana “Clean Coal” Plant

The effort of Duke Energy to build an Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle (IGCC) coal plant in Edwardsport, Indiana – or “clean coal” plant – has met with large cost over runs and considerable scandal in the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

In April of 2010, Duke Energy announced that the project’s scale and complexity would add approximately $530 million to the previously approved $2.35 billion estimate. That brought the total estimated cost of the plant to $2.88 billion.  The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) capped the costs of the Edwardsport coal gasification project that are passed on to consumers at $2.975 billion.  Its construction costs are nearly double the original 2007 estimate.

With approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), customer rates are expected to rise between 14-16% annually.  The rate increase will not come at once; costs began phasing into rates in January 2009, and gradually will be added to bills through 2013.

But significant controversy surrounds the IURC and it’s decision to appove the much-increased costs of the IGCC coal plant: Scott Storms, an IURC attorney and administrative law judge, allegedly discussed employment with Duke while presiding over hearings concerning the utility.  Storms left the IURC in September for a new position in Duke’s regulatory division.  Storms had handled matters related to the coal-gasification plant and consumer watchdogs from the Citizens Action Coalition say “(The IURC) has essentially given Duke Energy a blank check. We question all of those orders and the motivation behind them.” Storm has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

For more information, visit

A Realistic Look at Coal Reserves Yields Grim Results

Submitted by amyguinan on August 19, 2010 – 10:30am

The current issue of the scientific journal Energy contains “A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis,” by Tad Patzek and Gregory Croft which discusses the latest research on coal reserves.  Based on scientific modeling, global coal production is expected to peak in 2011, which does not mean that coal will run out, but that economically-feasible, easily reached coal will run out.  Carbon dioxide emissions related to coal burning are also expected to peak in 2011 and decline as production of coal declines.

Key findings from the study include:

1. Global coal production is likely to peak in the year
2. The global CO2 emissions from coal will also peak in 2011,
3. The estimated CO2 emissions from global coal production will
decrease by 50% by the year 2050
4. Between the years 2011 and 2050, the average rate of decline of
CO2 emissions from the peak is 2% per year, and this decline
increases to 4% per year thereafter
5. It may make sense to have carbon capture and sequestration
(CCS) to alleviate the highest CO2 emissions between now and
the year 2020 or so.

A link to the Patzek/Croft study.

Coal is in for a Bumpy Ride and Final Decline

Submitted by Anne Butterfield on April 21, 2010 – 1:37pm

More coal miners have lost their lives from cave-ins, explosions and lung disease since 1900 than all the Americans who died in World War II. – Ralph Nader There is a moment in the progress of any high altitude flight when the engines let off and the craft pitches down slightly; that is the beginning of the long descent for landing. In the past three weeks, our nation crossed a line in how we think about coal, and it now seems coal’s long flight of dominating how we produce electricity has embarked on a final decline. A pivotal lightning strike hit the industry on April 5, in the probably avoidable explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Lit up in the glare of the news cycle was Don Blankenship of Massey Energy whose union busting and campaign of appealing safety violations has led, probably, to the explosion in his mine. That’s the view loudly proclaimed by AFL-CIO president and former president of United Mine Workers Richard Trumka, who can cogently claim the disaster was propelled by the lack of union vigilance in the mine in question. Preceded by 53 safety violations in March and over 450 the previous year, the accident launched two federal investigations sought by West Virginia Senators Rockefeller and Byrd — who are otherwise quite protective of the industry — and a campaign of inspecting all mines in West Virginia was ordered by Governor Joe Manchin. A Wall Street law firm has joined the pushback posse, seeking to know if Massey violated SEC regulations by failing to disclose risk properly to investors. Another investor group dubbed Change to Win is calling for the ouster of Blankenship. It’s been joined by New York State’s Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, who has direct control of over 300,000 shares of Massey stock through that state’s common retirement fund. There is nothing like a mass casualty incident to focus our politics, and the small chance of coal state pols voting for clean energy jobs and a climate bill is inching higher, especially as the national focus on coal’s danger may lead eyeballs to stumble upon a recent study by Downstream Strategies showing what Appalachians know in their guts that the region’s coal reserves are in decline and the region needs diverse economic development immediately. Severe local turbulence can lead to loss of altitude, but more distant control can call for descent, too, in the form of federal regulation. Just days before the Montcoal catastrophe, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules to curb the practice of mountain top removal mining that is poisoning waterways and flattening Appalachia. It was denounced by Friends of Coal as a big job-killer, their usual line, as the industry hates all job losses that they do not effectuate from their own corporate offices. Also, later this month the EPA is scheduled to release new regulations for the handling of coal ash waste, the long awaited comeuppance for the spill of biblical proportions that cloaked eastern Tennessee at Christmas of 2008. The regulations could impose serious costs on the industry. As forces of scrutiny and regulation converge on the coal industry to reduce some of its hazards, they will push the price of the black rock appropriately upward. And as celebrated environmentalist Lester Brown has said, the free market is fine so long as prices tell the truth about costs. We need coal to be priced according to it costs, and politics is moving in that direction, particularly as we look west. Citing the city’s home rule authority as their clout, Chicago’s City Council has joyfully presented an ordinance to regulate the emissions of two coal plants inside the city limits, and if that fails, to call for the plants’ retirement. Chicagoans suffer twice the asthma-related hospitalizations than the national average. Here in Boulder we too have home rule authority and are feeling a strong push to delay the signing of a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy in favor of a new business arrangement crafted for decarbonization. This week all nine members of the City Council opined in a study session that times are changing and so must our energy production. Focusing on how coal is becoming less reliable, Councilwoman Susie Ageton put it forcefully: “We’ve got to make the shift – we’ve got to do it.” Maybe she knows that Colorado’s coal fields are faltering; the state hit peak production six years ago and “force majeure” has shut down mines four times since 2007. As for the motherlode of coal up in Wyoming, the most recent US Geological Survey assessment of coal in the Gillette Field of the Powder River Basin (which provides about 40 percent of our nation’s coal) found that only 6 percent was economically accessible. And The Bureau of Land Management has stated that major mines in the PRB have less than a ten year life span. Future mine expansions will face compelling geologic and other challenges. (For more on coal supply constraints go…..) So no one, especially the coal industry, should be surprised that Governor Ritter will sign legislation calling on Xcel Energy to reduce by 80 percent the nasty pollutants of key coal plants along the Front Range, with overt instruction to consider natural gas and low emitting sources as replacement for coal. We’re seeing the decline of coal. There may be air pockets to bump the industry back up and sharply down in its trajectory, but the fact is the 150 year flight is just plain running out of gas. And with Colorado in the forefront, many American communities are preparing for a smooth landing. A version of this column appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera.