Yesterday’s critique of enviros’ hopes for peak oil outcomes dovetails beautifully with this article from the NYT on what big coal is up to.
The future for American energy users is playing out in coal-rich areas like northeastern Wyoming, where dump trucks and bulldozers swarm around 80-foot-thick seams at a Peabody Energy strip mine here, one of the largest in the world.
Coal, the nation’s favorite fuel in much of the 19th century and early 20th century, could become so again in the 21st. The United States has enough to last at least two centuries at current use rates — reserves far greater than those of oil or natural gas. And for all the public interest in alternatives like wind and solar power, or ethanol from the heartland, coal will play a far bigger role.
The article presents two approaches being pursued by two big coal players, Peabody Energy and American Electric power, both of which are about aggressive development, and both of which do little to address climate change.
Peabody is taking a wait-and-see attitude about carbon caps, as it pursues development of traditional plants. It doesn’t regard near-term carbon caps as a “material threat.” American Electric, on the other hand, says, “The politics around climate issues are very real. That’s why we need to move on this now.” Moving on this now means building a couple of gassification plants that are less polluting but can at some point be more easily retrofitted for carbon capture.
In the NYT, American Electric Power is portrayed as the environmentally progressive coal company. But they’re only building 2 gassification plants, which do nothing about CO2 yet. There’s apparently 138 other plants on the drawing boards for the U.S., with a lifespan of ~50 years.
This kind of development represents a massive amount of inertia behind coal production, with no plan in place for CO2 management. Peak oil is going to trigger huge energy transitions. It looks like coal is positioning itself nicely to be our post-peak energy solution, except it’s leaving climate change out of the equation.