Tuesday, October 17

Learned a Few Interesting Coal Plant Facts Today ...

This afternoon, I attended a speech given by Tim Gregori of SME, providing status on the Highwood Generating Station. He brought up a few interesting points. As I have repeatedly stated, I am not an expert on these kinds of issues. However, I would like to hear what kind of response others have to these points;

1) Whatever debate we have as a community should not be IGCC vs. CFB. IGCC is a new, promising technology. However, only two IGCC power plants are operational in this country today, neither sequesters CO2 emissions, and both only operate at 80% efficiency. New technology needs to be matured, and five regional Montana municipalities are probably not the best agents to mature this technology.

What's more, the gas created by the IGCC technology has a higher value if sold as gas than it does by burning it in a turbine. This is why the Governor's IGCC plant will not be generating power.

Finally, IGCC utilizes a CFB in order to capture its pollutants. The only advantage of IGCC would seem to be that it turns the coal into gas. CFB skips that step.

2) The Highwood CFB plant is proposing to sequester CO2 emissions. For the past several months, we have heard that the biggest problem with the coal plant will be its CO2 emissions. We have also heard that one of the biggest advantages of an IGCC plant is that it can sequester carbon, and that CFB was a dirty technology because it did not sequester.

This also appears to be bunk. Today I heard that the proposed CFB Highwood plant is planning on sequestering emissions.

So, today I ask another question. If it turns out that the CFB plant will be just as clean as an IGCC plant for 30% less money, why should we not support it?


Anonymous said...

What does this issue have to do with Judaism?

Treasure State Jew said...

Anon; Why, in your opinion, must I be a one-track thinker? Most of my posts are about the community in which I live.

I am tempted to just say my blog, my topics. However, I will give you a short drash. In Judaism, there is a mitzvah to work toward Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world. By being a part of my community and working for the betterment of this community, this state and this nation, I hope to work toward Tikkun Olam.

WolfPack said...

I have a tough time swallowing that it is possible to "sequester" the CO2 outside of returning it into the biosystem. The best way to sequester CO2 is to plant a tree. I also don't like the verbal switch of interchanging carbon with CO2 in discussions about pollution. I think it is done on purpose to make us forget that CO2 is a needed gas in our environment that all plants use for photosynthesis. Carbon comes in many forms and CO2 is only one of them. I agree with TSJ that the debate around coal plants is full of subterfuge. I believe the real reason many groups are pushing for IGCC is they believe the financial numbers won’t pencil out and the whole project will be scrapped. No doubt that some level of global warming is taking place. There is however still quite a bit of debate as to whether CO2 emissions are responsible or not. After all, the CO2 we are releasing through fossil fuel combustion comes from plant life that collected all of it’s carbon from the same atmosphere to which it is being returned.

Treasure State Jew said...

I also have some very general "that just can't work" problems with sequestration. Mainly, what is to prevent a gas from rising to the atmosphere, even if you pump it into the ground?

There is a very interesting wiki on this, available here. Matt Singer had it up on his blog the other day.

Reading that wiki, I guess it might be possible. However, I just don't know if it is a pipe dream or not.

Paul Stephens, Green Solutions greateco@3rivers.net said...

Any sort of coal plant is very bad for Great Falls and Cascade County. It will negatively impact tourism, our local arts economy, agriculture, and depress property values. Clean, renewable energy industry would have a very beneficial effect, and most people are still being told that the "Highwood Station" will be "the cleanest in the country", which is a flat-out lie.
Because of monopoly rail rates, shipping coal is prohibitively expensive, so any coal plant, IGCC or otherwise, should be at the minehead. There are 30 or more Coal to Liquids (CTL) or IGCC plants being constructed in the US, now (and probably twice that or more in the rest of the world -- China and India are very interested, in part because they require much less cooling water.
The City and SME planned the Highwood Station to provide power for their Consortium of cities and co-ops wanting to buy Northwestern. Then, it was a better idea (but wind is better still, balanced with a variable power IGCC plant. CFB has to run full-out; it is a base load plant).
Obviously, most of the support for the Highwood Station (actually at Salem -- Highwood will be the most impacted by pollution) is now coming from the Schweitzer Admin with his Master Plan to provide 3.5 GW of power to the Southwest. They will get all the wind, hydro, and clean IGCC, and we will use the dirty power we already have. With carbon taxes, these CFB and PC plants will be the most expensive power we use, and most will have to be converted or closed down unless they have a captive market like their own co-op or the City of Great Falls customers.
Coastal states now have rules against buying power which contributes to global warming.
For more information, check out these websites:



Treasure State Jew said...

Paul; Thank you for your post. I appreciate the debate.

The technical specs I have seen indicate that any IGCC plant will have to integrate a CFB (circulating fluidized bed) into its processes in order to trap pollutants. It seems to me that the real advantage of an IGCC facility is that it produces gas, an extremely valuable commodity.

It also seems to me that it doesn't make much sense to build an IGCC plant to produce power, as the gas produced by the IGCC process is more valuable than the price of the power that plant could sell.

It also seems to me that any coal facility, IGCC or CFB, would produce CO2. That CO2 could be dealt with in either facility either by sequestration (which, I fear, is just a pipe dream) or by mitigation (planting of greenfields to trap CO2).

Now, I think that there are questions that the Highwood plant backers must answer. However, again, I think that it is a bugaboo to say that this plant would be OK, if only it used IGCC technology.

Treasure State Jew said...


I would also like to see some numbers behind your assertation that it is most cost effective to build a plant at the minehead.

The presentations I have seen (all from SME, at Neighborhood Council meetings, Council of Council meetings and the like) all indicate that this is not true.

From those presentations, I gather that there are additional factors (i.e., availability of H2O for processing, water treatment facilities, availability of local workforce, and perhaps most importantly, the location of the State's transmission grid) that make a Highwood location more preferable than one farther East.

Can you back up that statement with numbers?

Paul Stephens greateco@3rivers.net said...

Most of what you say is correct. Sequestration is relatively untried; however, it is being done by a Carter-era plant in North Dakota, and it is actually a revenue source there, because they sell it to oil companies who pump it back in the ground to enhance oil recovery. The same can be done with gas wells. So, that is probably economically feasible in Eastern Montana, where there are large oil fields. We might pipe it from here back to Shelby area and Canada, where we get our oil and gas locally, though.
Another sequestration technology which has a lot of promise is algae tanks, which use the CO2 to grow, and there are oil-rich algae species being developed which can be used for bio-diesel, and the solid parts pelletized and used like coal -- back in the same plant, even, making a a partial closed cycle. One of my friends thinks that will replace all coal and coal liquification within 10 years! (not likely). Here's a link to that:

Algae - like a breath mint for smokestacks
By Mark Clayton, Staff writer The Christian Science Monitor

It's also true that the main reason the plant is being sited here is water. The city had the water rights to transfer to SME at little or no charge. Anywhere else, they would have paid a lot for it, although I'm told that a couple of large farm irrigators have that much water. We don't yet know where Bull Mountain will get their water (a comparable amount). There is talk of building pipelines from Fort Peck, or drilling to the Madison Aquifer, there a mile or so deep.
As for labor, the power grid, etc., they are here, but there are equal or better ones elsewhere. We think that the Highwood Station will really be a "merchant plant", exporting most of the energy generated here. If it was really for SE Montana, why ship the coal from there up here, and the elecricity back there? Both are costly and inefficient. The same engineer friend has long claimed that a coal slurry pipeline would be much cheaper than rail shipping, and also allows for sulfur and mercury removal from the coal before it is dried and burned. There's nothing in any DEIS or other documentation for that, though.
The bottom line, though, is that if the CO2 can't be sequestered or removed, then carbon taxes will make any CO2 producing plant uneconomic. We should be looking towards half or more of our electricity generated by wind and solar by 2025, and closing down the existing pulverized coal and CFB plants, rather than building new ones. Also, the "rumor" that CFB can sequester CO2 is false, as far as actually capturing it and piping it somewhere else. The algae technology would work with it, but so far, that's only been done on a small laboratory scale, and they still don't have the oil-rich algaes for biodiesel.
Local planners haven't even considered the possibility of a carbon tax, although nationally, it seems likely within 5 years or less (Europe and other Kyoto signatories have had one of $11/ton for at least a decade, and it will have to go up to $20-30 ton to actually reduce carbon emissions significantly.
I've read that Texas had 14 CFB plants planned, and even the Christian Right is holding public prayer sessions to get the utility company to scrap those plans. The biggest IGCC plant in the country was recently ordered for Louisiana. They "get" the dangers of global warming, although everyone is puzzled why we didn't have more big hurricanes this year. The luck of the draw, I guess.
Check out some of the DEIS comments from the CCE website www.cce-mt.org There's a lot of good research in them, from doctors and scientists as well as professional environmentalists and policy makers.

deathray said...


next time you feel like "learning" something from an industry spin-doctor with a vested intrest, let me know.