Sunday, April 26, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes creates showdown on the future of coal-fired plants and carbon dioxide emissions

On Sunday April 26 CEO Jim Rogers of Duke Power talked to veteran correspondent Scott Pelley about his view of what it takes to reduce the carbon footprint. Rogers overseas twenty coal-fired utility plants, and says that the utility industry must end carbon emissions by 2050. But Jim Hanson, one of the top climate scientists from NASA, says that we have to phase out emissions from coal-fired plants within the next two decades – or else.

There is one plant – in North Dakota, burning lignite – that converts the carbon dioxide and stores it underground. It was built in the 1980s for $1.5 billion. But the point of the North Dakota operation (“God’s country, as a coworker used to say) is to prepare natural gas from coal. Such plants would cost $4 billion a piece today, and engineers are not certain of the safety of underground storage.

The United States has long been the “Persian Gulf” of coal, with the largest single field in the world being the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, with enormous strip mines, build in flat land, however. (I drove past this area in May 1998.)

The title of the CBS News story is “The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power: 60 Minutes: Coal Power Plants Supply Power To Millions, But Cutting Carbon Dioxide Could Take A Long Time”, link here.

The electric utility industry is the largest consumer of coal mined by “mountaintop removal” in Appalachia, also. Most coal plants in the eastern US depend on mountain strip mines.

The report also discussed the opening of new coal power plants in China.

Watch CBS Videos Online

The picture comes from Wikimedia Commons and comes from the US Geological Survey, attribution page here. This is the Deckers coal mine in southeastern Montana, slightly north of the area that I drove through.

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