Articles by Ted Nace
Ted Nace is the director of CoalSwarm, a collaborative information clearinghouse on U.S. and international coal mines, plants, companies, politics, impacts, and alternatives. He is the author of Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal (CoalSwarm, 2010).
Shortly before the July 4 holiday, Opinion Research Corporation released a poll entitled "Opinions About Gas Prices and U.S. Energy Independence" [PDF] which shows -- drum roll please -- that the public, by a three-to-one margin, is either "very angry" or "somewhat angry" about gasoline prices.
While gas prices grabbed the headlines, the poll also happened to ask a number of questions about coal, and the answers were both interesting and surprising: The percentage of people who said they opposed new coal plants was actually higher than the percentage expressing outrage over gas prices. When asked whether "America should commit to a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired plants," the response was:
[Editor's note: When this post was originally run, the phrase "100 miles by 100 miles" was changed to "100 square miles," which is very different. The article has now been corrected (or rather, unmiscorrected) and the appropriate intern flogged; our apologies to Ted and Alex.]
This post was coauthored with Alex Carlin, organizer of Let's Go Solar and instigator of the recent Environment America study (PDF), "On the Rise: Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming."
Every day more people are finally hearing about what Joe Romm calls "the solar power you don't hear about" -- solar thermal power, utility-scale arrays of mirrors that create heat (and then electricity) so efficiently that they can do everything a coal plant can do except melt the South Pole.
Without any special promotion, solar thermal (concentrating solar power, or CSP) will eventually grow into a major supplier of our electric grid, simply because, according to the California Energy Commission, it is an increasingly economical technology with per kilowatt-hour costs estimated to be 27 percent lower than new integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants with carbon capture-and-storage -- 12.7 cents/kWh for CSP versus 17.3 cents/kwh for IGCC plus CCS.
The technology is moving forward, with five plants already operational, eight under construction, and 20 more announced. Several of these plants include on-site thermal storage, an option that makes CSP a reliable source of baseload power.
The problem is the timeline of global warming. If we take seriously what the science is telling us, we must conclude that CSP has arrived in the nick of time. James Hansen's latest team effort (PDF) tells us that earth has had many eras with ice-free North and South Poles. The report concludes: "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed ... CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." On the other hand, if we continue to burn coal for our electric power, those poles will melt, sending sea levels so high that cities like New York and Miami would have no chance to survive.
You probably already knew that, but did you know this? Just 100 miles by 100 miles of CSP installations would supply 100 percent of the U.S. electric grid. That's being conservative: Ausra's chairman David Mills pegs the figure at 92 miles by 92 miles. Put similar installations in Morocco for Europe and the Gobi desert for China and we have our golden opportunity -- our last chance -- of keeping those poles under ice and our cities above water.
How much land is 100 miles by 100 miles?
One of the most controversial coal plant proposals in the country just took yet another big hit.
Minnesota's two administrative law judges on the hearings for the Big Stone II plant in South Dakota, Steve Mihalchick and Barbara Neilson, recommended today that the state Public Utilities Commission deny a certificate of need for the plant's transmission lines in western Minnesota. If adopted by the PUC, the ruling will kill the highly controversial project.
According to the ALJs' recommendation [PDF], the sponsors of the plant "have failed to demonstrate that their demand for electricity cannot be met more cost effectively through energy conservation and load-management measures ..."
In September 2007, two of the co-sponsors of Big Stone II, representing about 27 percent of the plant's capacity, pulled out of the project. The withdrawal rocked the project, but the remaining sponsors announced plans to redesign it and continue seeking permits.
Today's ALJ recommendation, which has been closely watched by the broad multi-state coalition that had gathered against the plant, is not curtains for Big Stone II -- but we may be in the final act. The demise of the plant promises to unlock the huge wind potential of the Upper Midwest region, which to date has scarcely been tapped.
Greenpeace's body slam of the core "clean coal" technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) may take a while to sink in. Not so long ago, groups like NRDC were writing glowing accounts of the technology, and it's safe to say that much of the environmental movement is still sipping the Kool-Aid. So it was heartening to read that at least one person attending the Carbon Capture and Sequestration conference in Pittsburgh seems to have her head screwed on straight and her ear to the grassroots: Becky Tarbotton of Rainforest Action Network. Becky writes: