Thursday, December 18, 2008

CLEAN COAL PR: Standard example

"In response to the announcement from OPEC that oil producing companies will cut oil production to force oil prices to remain high, John. W Rich, Jr., CEO of WMPI PTY., LLC, issued the following statement:

"OPEC's decision to cut production is an arrogant attempt to manipulate energy prices in the United States. American families cannot afford higher energy prices and Americans cannot afford to continue to rely on OPEC countries for our energy needs. The best way to fight this kind of economic terrorism is to support homegrown energy solutions like waste coal and biomass to diesel that will create jobs here at home, develop a new energy industry and stop the export of US dollars to foreign oil barons."

This comes straight from Gilberton, Schuylkill County, one of the poorest place in the state of Pennsylvania.

"John W. Rich, Jr. has been a leader in the energy sector for decades and he is the CEO of WMPI PTY., LLC in Gilberton, PA," continues the press release.

More accurately, Rich is a leader in the waste coal industry in eastern Pennsylvania, a business scavenging the dregs out of culm piles leftover from the heyday of anthracite coal mining. To call him a leader in the energy sector is like saying the Detroit Lions are an important pro football team in the race to the Super Bowl.

However, Rich has been trying to get a Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil plant off the ground for some time in Gilberton. It would allow him to capitalize more efficiently on the disposal of his waste coal tailings.

During 2008 the Department of Energy (under George W. Bush) seemingly backed away from the Gilberton plant. It did this through simple neglect.

An impact statement issued by DoE at first made up some claims about what would be done with the carbon dioxide produced by the plant and then, in a later amendment, conceded that no technology now existed to dispose of the volumes of greenhouse gas produced. It seems certain that the fate of the Gilberton plant will be put off until well into the administration of Barack Obama.

The obvious arguments now for clean coal energy production are the same as they have ever been. "The US is the Saudi Arabia of coal" and the nation must get off Middle Eastern oil.

However, the price of gasoline in southern California is now under two bucks/gallon, a place it hasn't been in well over a decade in Pasadena. And the economy is still crashing.

At El Reg a few weeks ago, DD argued, in relationship to an author's claim that oil dollars increased tyranny worldwide, that:

"Cheap oil made [for American] bad government. Expensive oil made for worse. Cynically, one might be led to believe that a half decade long cratering of the US economy and the subsequent potential draw down on the price of oil might actually be a good thing for the purposes of democratization and slowing greenhouse gas generation."

It's also possible that a long economic catastrophe will lead to some form of awful government in the US, one superseding the administration of Barack Obama. However, on balance, your host's belief is that a bad economy, combined with a tight credit market for expensive building projects, are what would be the right thing -- long term -- for the creation of a rational energy policy.

Americans still believe that energy independence from Middle Eastern fossil fuel can be had by a combination technological magics (which will probably never be delivered) and increased production in the United States. All of it aimed at restoring the economy to say, what it was, in 2004. If there's an actual political will to practically and seriously deal with global warming at the Federal level, it's still far from getting out of the station.

It's politically impossible to tell the American public that renewable energy schemes and technologies for squeezing every last drop of fossil fuel out of the earth inside our boundaries, all peddled like fads on the evening news, are not solutions of the magnitude necessary to deal with our problem.

And what we really need to start getting used to is a radical contraction in energy usage, one not made nice feeling by full page Chevron newspaper ads of some bearded guy with "I Will Use Less Energy" scribbled over his face.

"Rich is proposing utilizing new technology for the gasification of existing waste coal intermingled with traditional biomass feedstock to produce an abundant supply of domestic liquid transportation fuels that will displace the foreign oil we are importing at the rate of $1 billion per day," reads the press release.

There is no usable biomass in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. And even if there were, this still does nothing to dispose of the carbon dioxide produced by the industrial scheme used to derive liquid fuel from it.

Fortunately, advertisements have started running on cable, TV spots which purport to show the technology for sequestering carbon dioxide from clean coal plants. The camera shows a smirking man in a field of rocks and trash weeds, a pretty accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs.

"A $400 million coal gasification plant proposed for the Good Spring area would join just two existing U.S. plants that use the same technology, according to the U.S. Department of Energy," reported the Pottsville Republican, a newspaper in Schuylkill County, recently.

Good Spring, like Gilberton, is another poor community, situated between the Pine Grove and Williams Valley public school districts. There is no infrastructure there nor much in the way of jobs or even a "town." It is simply near more waste coal piles in an area where just about anything which furnishes even meager employment is considered a godsend.

One can view the Republican article as a corporate fishing expedition, one aimed at getting other people to contribute heavy funding. The private backers for this different clean coal plant (and it's distinct from the still to be built but languishing facility slated for Gilberton about half a county's width away to the east) don't yet have the money for their project and are unlikely to get it from the US government.

However, a Canadian company -- one involved in digital media, Immersive Media Corp., is said to have "made a $5 million investment for start-up costs on the plant."

Does it sound like a pig in a poke? Sure it does.

The Pottsville newspaper interviews some spokesman who insists the plant will use "advanced technology" and be very clean.

"[A source] declined to name the technology providers for the plant because they had not signed contracts, but said developers had agreements with two providers that have several commercialized technologies available to them," reported the newspaper.

Reading between the lines, because the story is so based on theoretical outcomes -- plant start dates are potentially around 2011 -- one might be led to think that the potential builders and operators are desperate.


Anonymous dan_pittsburg said...

This was a post/reply on similar blog, worth reposting...

CarolOverland wrote on Nov 23, 2008 9:18 AM:
" IGCC/coal gasification is being rejected by states that review the costs and emissions. DE is close to PA, here's their rationale for rejection based on high cost, not so hot emissions, and that it emitted lots of CO2:
I represented clients against Excelsior Energy's Mesaba Project, and here's the judge's decision in that, recommending denial based on high cost ($3,595/kW $2005) and $95-104MWhr, and high NOx and particulate emissions and that it did nothing about CO2 emissions:
Coal gasification has been around in US for decades, it's nothing new, and was promoted extensively in the late 70s and early 80s. Google "Beulah" and "synfuel" and "water contamination" and learn the impacts of that plant operating on an area that has been declared a hazardous waste site). Here's the report with info on Wabash, 232MW operating with major difficulties over the years (explosion last year killed 2) water contamination and technical difficulties:;jsessionid=6C9523E40090E56D083914AEEBD5F6A6?purl=/787567-a64JvB/native/
And then there's Pinon Pines, which they never did get working, here's the DOE assessment:
And here's Steve Jenkin's testimony in the Florida Glades Power case, another one rejected:
Please do your homework on IGCC and you'll learn that there's nothing clean about it, ratepayers can't afford it, and it's too risky for private investment. "

12:18 PM  

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