Bush drops mismanaged ‘NeverGen’ clean coal project
For those remaining
seven or eight three or four people who still buy the Bush rhetoric that he cares about global warming and is committed to addressing the problem with new technology, Exhibit 435C for the prosecution is the just-canceled “clean coal” project called FutureGen.
[Amusing anecdote for FHA (Future Historians of America): I once had a boss at the U.S. Department of Energy who practiced repeating “clean coal” in front of a mirror so as not to break out smiling when uttering that oxymoron.]
Yes, I know Bush said as recently as Monday (in the most vetted of all presidential speeches), “Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions.” But he wasn’t lying or flip-flopping or anything. He didn’t say, “We are funding new technologies …” or “Anyone who actually meant what they said would keep funding new technologies …” Give the guy a break. He said, “Let us fund new technologies …” He was imploring Congress for help in a “Let my people go” vein.
This is sort of a setback for those who believe coal gasification combined with carbon capture and storage could be a major global warming solution. I say “sort of” for two reasons. First, the program was being horribly mismanaged:
“The idea of FutureGen makes complete sense,” Dr. Moniz [undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration] said. However, a study he helped direct concluded earlier this year that the FutureGen project was badly structured, with confusion about whether it was a research project or a demonstration. Among its problems, he said in a telephone interview on Friday, was that it has “a cast of thousands” …
Apparently the too-many-cooks overseeing FutureGen couldn’t make up their minds whether they were developoing new technology or demonstrating existing technology. Hey. No big deal. We have a decade. Why not do both?
The second problem: The goal of FutureGen was to “validate the engineering, economic, and environmental viability of advanced coal-based, near-zero emission technologies that by 2020” will produce electricity that is only 10 percent more expensive than current coal-generated electricity.
So the project was either doubly pointless or doubly cynical, depending on your perspective. After all, by the time this technology was ready to commercialize on a significant scale in the early 2020s, the world will have built or begun construction on more than a 1000 GW of coal plants, using traditional technology that is not designed for carbon capture and storage. The climate will have been destroyed irrevocably before Futuregen could have accomplished anything useful in the marketplace. Also, we will still need a mandatory cap on carbon emissions to make future FutureGen plants viable because they will be more expensive than traditional plants even in the 2020s. Since the Bush administration opposes a mandatory cap, the whole R&D effort looks like another delaying action … if you were inclined to take anything the administration says seriously, of course.
No wonder people in the energy business called the project “NeverGen.”
(You can read more on the cancellation here.)