Coal is having a hard time lately. U.S. power plants are switching to natural gas, environmental restrictions are kicking in, and the industry is being derided as the world’s No. 1 climate criminal. Prices have crashed, sure, but for a real sense of coal’s diminishing prospects, check out what’s happening in the bond market.
Bonds are where coal companies turn to raise money for such things as new mines and environmental cleanups. But investors are increasingly reluctant to lend to them. Coal bond prices tumbled 17 percent in the second quarter, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. It’s the fourth consecutive quarter of price declines and the worst performance of any industry group by a long shot.
Bonds fluctuate less than stocks, because the payoff is fixed and pretty much guaranteed as long as the borrower remains solvent. A 17 percent decline is huge, and it happened at a time when other energy bonds—oil and gas—were rising. Three of America’s biggest coal producers had the worst-performing bonds for the quarter:
Alpha Natural Resources: -70 percent
Peabody: -40 percent
Arch: -30 percent
The map shows coal plants in 2010 that may be headed for retirement. Blue circles represent plants that will be shuttered by 2020, while yellow will convert to gas, and red have undetermined futures.
About 17 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generation will disappear over the next few years, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Obstacles include age, the abundance of cheap natural gas, and new EPA rules to cut pollution…
Even China, the world’s biggest consumer of coal, wants to be rid of it…While China’s electricity demand will soar in the coming decades, its coal use will remain relatively flat, peaking by 2030 and then declining, according to BNEF. The pollution is too thick and the alternatives too cheap for coal to flourish…
But even setting aside the environmental and health issues, renewables are on a trajectory to outcompete fossil fuels, starting with coal. Between now and 2040, two-thirds of the money spent on adding new electricity capacity worldwide will be spent on renewables, according to BNEF…
Pigs like the Koch Bros and their bed-buddies ExxonMobil et al are putting their last hopes into the Republican Party. Unlike their peers in archaic monarchies like Saudi Arabia, they have to confront minimal papier mache democracies like the United States. Conservatives like Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats needn’t involve themselves with science to decide policy. Their only decision is whether they require a new wheelbarrow to carry away the dollar$ on offer from the barons of fossil fuel – or the old one is adequate.
It only remains for the crowd in charge of the Democrat Party to decide if they will listen to reason, evidence-based science and concern for future generations of our species. For some that’s still a difficult questions.
…Throughout the national park system, an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance is eroding the visitor experience and threatening the very resources that the National Park Service was created to protect. Earlier this year, the park service announced that the cost of deferred maintenance had reached $11.5 billion…
Despite this, in December President Obama effectively spread the maintenance budget even thinner by adding seven new parks totaling approximately 120,000 acres to the park system. The administration also supports reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes up to $900 million annually from offshore oil and gas leases to federal land acquisitions and state recreational grants — but nothing explicitly for the maintenance of our federal lands.
Adding more land to the federal estate is irresponsible when the government is failing to maintain the parks, forests and grazing lands it currently owns. Rather than using the conservation fund to acquire more land, Congress should use the money to help address the deferred maintenance backlog.
True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself.
Advocates for reauthorizing the conservation fund, including the Interior Department, point to broad public support for public land acquisition, particularly for private holdings within park boundaries and other ecologically sensitive parcels threatened by development. However, federal land agencies can acquire these priority parcels in a revenue-neutral manner by swapping them with other federal lands, leaving the land and water conservation money for critical maintenance and repairs.
Reed Watson, the executive director at the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center blthers on with sophistry for a spell – then, gets to his point:
First, Congress should stop acquiring more land and use the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help pay down the deferred maintenance backlog. Second, Congress should renew and expand the authority of federal land agencies that oversee our parks, forests and rangelands to charge user fees and allow those fees to be used at the locations where they were collected.
No thought given to reordering priorities on how our government spends its whole budget.
The Park Service budget for fiscal year 2015 is $2.6 billion – less than 1/10th of 1% of the federal budget. At the same time all of the regular activities of the Department of Defense are projected to consume 54% of all federal discretionary spending, or $598.5 billion out of a total of $1.1 trillion.
Might we consider withdrawing the taxpayer subsidies in the billion$ we hand over to fossil fuel companies? Nope, flunkies like Watson spend their lobbying time before Congress and the public prating about more efficient use of the pittance set aside for nature’s natural heritage in the United States. In the heart of hearts of creeps like the Koch Bros, there is nothing they’d like better than ignoring real conservation – until after they’ve sucked every bit of carbon from the ground and stuffed it into the air we breathe.
China will replace four coal-burning heating plants in the capital Beijing with natural gas fired ones by the end of next year as it steps up efforts to clean up pollution…
The report, citing the city’s Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, said the four plants and some 40 other related projects would cost around $8 billion and cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 10,000 metric tons. It did not detail the related projects.
The plan is the latest step by authorities to deal with a persistent smog crisis in China’s big cities that is fuelling public anger. The capital has been shrouded in thick hazardous smog for several days during the ongoing seven-day national holiday.
China has been under pressure to tackle air pollution to douse potential unrest as an increasingly affluent urban populace turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has besmirched much of China’s air, water and soil.
Last month the government announced plans to slash coal consumption and close polluting mills, factories and smelters, though experts said implementing the targets would be a major challenge.
The new plants will replace four coal-fired ones that provide heating for homes in the city’s central urban area as well as generating electricity, Xinhua said.
Beijing is the Auld Reekie of the 21st Century. For those of you who don’t know the term, it described Edinburgh [and London] not only in the years before World War 2, but, especially afterwards during the efforts to ramp industrial production back up to speed in the UK.
Then, as now, though industrial use was a significant portion of the air pollution, everyone’s attachment to their wee coal fire heating the main rooms of home was a tough cultural obstacle – just as central to established urban life in Beijing. The solution has to be the same – replacing those coal fires with natural gas or electricity generated by means other than burning coal.
The cost of bringing large volumes of natural gas to locations in and around Beijing also lays the groundwork for local provision and access to that cleaner substitute for coal. Smart idea.
Locally manufactured wind generator in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan
Oil-rich Kazakhstan will spend 1 percent of annual output every year until 2050 to increase power generation from greener sources, a senior official said, cutting its dependence on coal far faster than some of the world’s big polluters.
The Central Asian country, the world’s ninth largest by area but populated by just 17 million people, holds about 3 percent of the global recoverable oil reserves. However, its fast, oil-propelled growth hinges on high oil prices.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former steelworker who has ruled for more than two decades, has signed off on a state program on developing sources of renewable energy.
“According to our estimates, total investments – state and private – needed to implement this program will amount annually to an average of $3.2 billion in the period until 2050, or roughly 1 percent of GDP,” Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Kapparov told a news briefing…
“This is not such a high price for the clean air, for the health of our children and the preservation of ecological systems, as well as for our economy’s resilience to external shocks which assume more threatening proportions each year.”
Coal-fired power stations, which heavily pollute the atmosphere, currently account for around 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s electricity generation.
Kapparov said, provided domestic natural gas prices were high, Kazakhstan’s “energy basket” by 2030 would be made up of 11 percent generated by wind and the sun, 8 percent by nuclear power, 10 percent by hydro power, 21 percent by gas and 49 percent by coal…
The “green revolution” can add annually up to 3 percent of GDP to Kazakhstan’s current economic growth in the period until 2050, Kapparov said, and create up to 600,000 new jobs.
Looking forward is rarely part of the skill set of politicians. That seems to be a global character trait – with a few exceptions.
It’s always good news for the rest of the planet, as well, when a small, unique portion of the world’s economic machinery decides to include sensible environmental goals into their planning.
In the United States, we’d be improving the odds if we even considered planning.
After studying chemistry at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Jane Chuan and Wang Youqi pursued doctorates in the U.S. She got hers from what’s now the University of Buffalo in 1988, the year they married. Wang graduated in 1994 from the California Institute of Technology.
A few years later, they were cashing in stock options in Silicon Valley companies they’d co-founded, one of which created a luminescent chemical to store X-ray images. Their home in Atherton, California, had seven bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and an acre of land…
By 2000, Wang was convinced that the research methods he was patenting could help stave off the environmental nightmare he saw unfolding during return visits to his homeland. China, already reeling from pollution, was poised to more than double coal consumption during the decade. That would choke cities with smog and exacerbate global warming.
Chuan, 61, bespectacled and smiling in her white lab coat, remembers pounding the pavement to pitch U.S. investors on cleaning China’s coal. Only a handful of California’s Internet- obsessed venture capitalists bit, she says.
So, in 2003, the couple moved back to Shanghai, the city from which they had emigrated 18 years earlier. They crammed into a 1,100-square-foot apartment that was hot in the summer, cold in the winter and crowded with two teenage children home from boarding school on weekends.
By 2006, Wang had his breakthrough in sight. He’d found a way to unlock a chemical stored in the coal that was poisoning his country and to put it to an unlikely use: cleaning China’s air.
The catalyst he discovered speeds reactions that convert methanol extracted from coal into a substance called dimethyl carbonate. By adding dimethyl carbonate to diesel fuel, Wang now plans to cut 90 percent of black carbon soot from the tailpipe emissions of 1,800 Shanghai buses by year-end…
Yashentech’s emissions-busting effort is one way in which China is racing to solve its clean-energy riddle: How can a country that’s hooked on coal mitigate environmental damage from the dirtiest of fossil fuels..?
With 1.3 billion people, power-hungry industries and scant oil or natural gas, it has no immediate alternatives to coal for fueling its economy. China gets 70 percent of its energy from coal, three times the U.S. figure. It even converts coal into diesel fuel and ammonia that’s used for making fertilizer…
China can’t quit coal. But with efforts from entrepreneurs, mining enterprises and electricity giants, it’s ready to tackle its addiction, says Zhou Fengqi, senior adviser to the Energy Research Institute of the government’s National Development and Reform Commission.
“Now that people have meat and fish to eat every day, the environment has also become a big concern,” Zhou says. “China is not like a developed country. We can’t simply stop using coal. If we want to use it, we have to clean it up.”
RTFA. The is only an excerpt from the beginning of an extensive review of the multiplicity of tech used, experimented with, being developed in China to handle the severe environmental questions they need to answer and solve. Fortunately, the resolve is there as well as the political will.
The article covers everything from coal to spirulina, omega-3 fatty acids to carbonated drinks. What’s most important? “In China, we get lots of support from the people, politicians and moneymakers,” Chuan says.
As Congress debates legislation to slow global warming by limiting emissions, engineers are tinkering with ways to capture and store carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas.
But coal-fired power plants, commonly identified as the nation’s biggest emissions villain, may not be the best focus. Rather, engineers and policymakers say, it may be easier and less costly to capture the carbon dioxide at oil refineries, chemical plants, cement factories and ethanol plants, which emit a far purer stream of it than a coal smokestack does…
Lending momentum to this thinking, a Texas company, Denbury Resources, is building a 320-mile pipeline for carbon dioxide that will run from Louisiana to Houston.
Initially the pipeline will take natural underground deposits of carbon dioxide in Mississippi to the aging oil fields of east Texas, where it can be used to force more oil to the surface.
But as the pipeline threads its way through more and more refineries and plants — the chemical heartland of the United States — manmade carbon dioxide captured at those sites could also be added and stored.
Sequestering a ton of carbon dioxide from a chemical plant would have the same effect on the Earth’s atmosphere as storing a ton from a coal plant, scientists and industry executives emphasize.
“Sequestration is not a coal technology — it is a greenhouse gas abatement strategy,” said S. Julio Friedmann, leader of the carbon management program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory…
What oil drillers pay for carbon dioxide depends on the value of the oil it will help produce. When oil is at $70 a barrel, carbon dioxide goes for $10 or $11 a ton, said Tracy Evans, the chief executive of Denbury, the Texas company building the carbon dioxide pipeline.
Should the Congressional legislation mandate a cap-and-trade system, that modest price could be very important. “Wherever you can go to store a ton of carbon the most cheaply, you will go,” said Mr. Holmstead, the former E.P.A. administrator for air.
Not only applies reason to the questions of sequestration vs. source, it begins to make cap-and-trade sound sensible, viable.
The local mine is a mere three miles away and is clearly visible from the offices of the Brecon Mountain Railway in Merthyr Tydfil.
But regulations about how it can be transported mean that coal for the railway’s newly converted steam train comes not from the south Wales valleys but from Siberia, 3,000 miles away.
Coal from the Ffos-y-Fran opencast mine in Merthyr has to be moved by rail rather than road. As there is no rail link from the mine to the railway, coal for the converted engine comes from the wilds of Siberia via rail to the ports, then container ship to Hull, then by road to Merthyr…
The railway owner, Jayne Hills said it was even more galling because the local coal was perfect for use in a steam locomotive. It generates steam quickly and maintains its heat…
“Being from Merthyr, where everyone has a relative who was a coal miner, or knew somebody who was a miner, this seems just crazy,” she said.
The mine operator, Miller Argent, said it was not just the railway that had to source coal from faraway locations despite there being a mine close by. Local coal merchants who supply homes, pubs, schools and hospitals were also having to look elsewhere for their supply because the mine’s planning permission stipulated it could only move coal by rail.
See. It’s not the Republicans – alone – who invented Red Tape.
Sometimes, I think that nations beginning to fail at imperialism have to do something with excess bureaucrats; so, they put them to work “regulating” the lives of ordinary citizens.
CO₂ capture facility sprawls alongside cooling tower at Mountaineer plant
Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth.
A behemoth built in 1980, long before global warming stirred broad concern, Mountaineer is poised to become the world’s first coal-fired power plant to capture and bury some of the carbon dioxide it churns out. The hope is that the gas will stay deep underground for millennia rather than entering the atmosphere as a heat-trapping pollutant.
The experiment, which the company says could begin in the next few days, is riveting the world’s coal-fired electricity sector, which is under growing pressure to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. Visitors from as far as China and India, which are struggling with their own coal-related pollution, have been trooping through the plant.
The United States still depends on coal-fired plants, many of them built decades ago, to meet half of its electricity needs. Some industry experts argue that retrofitting them could prove far more feasible than building brand new, cleaner ones.
Yet the economic viability of the Mountaineer plant’s new technology, known as carbon capture and sequestration, remains uncertain…
And as with any new technology, even the engineers are unsure how well it will work: will all of the carbon dioxide stay put?
Should be interesting as all get-out. Of course, regardless of results, diehard coal investors will claim it worked. The Earth-religion segment of environmentalist activists will claim it didn’t.
I’m waiting for solid data, analysis that is peer-reviewed – preferably by universities without subsidies from coal companies.
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission
In the high-stakes game of climate change, the United States and other countries are betting on the idea that technology can make dirty coal cleaner.
For years if not decades, U.S. efforts to develop big coal-fired power plants that push CO2 emissions into the ground instead of spewing them into the atmosphere have stalled. The situation has gotten so bad that green-tech experts refer to this period of technological development as the “valley of death” for carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS…
“If we’re going to be able to add carbon capture and storage to our toolbox of ways to address climate change, the time to demonstrate it is right now — or yesterday, maybe,” said Sarah Forbes, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute. “CO2 emissions are continuing to rise, and we’re seeing impacts of climate change…”
And President Obama last month announced a $1 billion revamp of the country’s flagship CCS research project, a near-zero-emissions coal-fired power plant in Illinois called FutureGen. It’s urgent that both efforts succeed, Forbes said…
About half of U.S. power comes from coal, and the process of burning coal for electricity accounts for about 80 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions from electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar — which, together, account for less than 2 percent of U.S. electricity production — won’t be able to ramp up fast enough to replace coal, said Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We’re not champions of coal at EDF, but we’re realists,” he said. “Although we see room for a huge expansion of renewable energy and efficiency, in the near term, we don’t think that coal is going away. … We still have a huge existing base of coal plants that will be around, at a minimum, for a number of decades.”
In the United States, many are pinning hopes on FutureGen…The project took a blow in late June, however, when two of its private-sector backers, American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co., withdrew. Because of delays and cost overruns, the project has earned the nickname “NeverGen.”
Meanwhile, other nations are moving ahead. In China, the similarly named GreenGen plant is expected to be completed before FutureGen. Australia has a project called ZeroGen, and several European countries are working on similar technologies.
Some have described the situation as an arms race. The country first to prove that CCS works may be able to export the technology elsewhere.
Obama probably has the best quote on the question: “If we managed to put a man on the moon in 10 years I think we can do the same with coal-based production of electricity.” Or something like that.
Point being – as an ecology activist for decades I think it would be foolish to pass on the energy potential of our great coal deposits because some don’t like the idea of using it – at all. That’s not science. It’s not even ideology. It’s religion.