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More Dirty Coal Power Coming to the Northeast

March 26th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Weak NJ laws make New Jersey more vulnerable to imported dirty coal power

[Update 3/26/09 Here’s some really bad news:
Transmission Superhighway On Track to Carry Cheap, Dirty Coal Power to Northeast
“Thanks to federal funding and pending legislation, momentum is building behind a national transmission superhighway meant to propel America to a repowered clean energy future, but the end result in the Northeast may be just the opposite.

The rules proposed to help the nation tap abundant wind and solar resources in Western states will effectively open vast new markets in New England and Mid-Atlantic states to the cheapest, dirtiest power from aging coal plants in the Midwest and Appalachia.

Further, transmission legislation now before the Senate or about to be introduced excludes support for lines that would reach offshore wind resources along the Atlantic coast. The constant ocean winds, relatively shallow water and proximity to heavily populated cities make offshore wind one of the most promising sources of clean energy in the nation.”
[End Update – start original post]

Pennsylvania coal power plant – Reliant Portland Generating Station, directly across Delaware River from NJ, just below Water Gap

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) just issued a Report that warns about the threats from imports of dirty coal power from mid-western states.
Contrary to public understanding, the UCS Report concludes that NJ’s current laws and policies “unwittingly” make existing problems WORSE. According to the scientists:
“Even as the Northeast blazes a trail for other regions and the federal government in fighting global warming, its pioneering efforts could unwittingly contribute to the growth of coal elsewhere. By adding to the price difference between electricity produced within the region and outside it, RGGI could drive some demand to uncapped sources, particularly nearby coal plants.” (page 25)
Data show that all of NJ’s efforts to reduce in state emissions of green house gases will be wiped out by expansion of coal power imports. (see Figure 11 on page 20 of the Report)
IMPORTING POLLUTION – Coal’s threat to climate policy in the US Northeast
As a result, NJ consumers will pay higher electric costs and be saddled with more pollution from dirty mid-western coal plants.
These troubling findings are well known and were predicted by NJ environmentalists years ago. The State’s policies were not “unwitting”. For example, DEP Commissioner Jackson testified to the Legislature on December 10, 2007. She warned an Assembly Committee that that “you will hear a lot about leakage” and suggested that the best solution was a national green house gas emission control program with “hard caps”. But, capitulating to polluters, State officials failed to adopt meaningful controls on coal power imports to prevent the problem.
The UCS Report shines a bright light on failed policies and battles lost by environmentalists in the NJ Legislature and in regional negotiations. Environmentalists were unable to convince the Corzine Administration to demand tough regulatory and economic tools to prevent the serious problems documented in the UCS Report.
NJ’s flawed approach contrast with the far stronger program under way in California. Here’s why.
Dirty coal power from the mid-west is a lot cheaper than cleaner energy sources produced in NJ. Simple economics and lax NJ policies allow market pressures to undermine global warming and clean air protections.
According to the Corzine Administration’s “Energy Master Plan” (EMP), NJ imports almost a third (27%) of electric power consumed in state from dirty coal power plants in the mid-west. According to DEP, this imported power accounts for significant global warming impacts. http://www.nj.gov/globalwarming/home/documents/pdf/final_report20081215.pdf

Lisa Jackson, former NJDEP Commissioner and Obama nominee for EPA Administrator

The 10 northeastern State’s “Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’ (RGGI) “cap and trade” program negotiated by former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson does not address the carbon emissions from these power imports, a major flaw known as “leakage”. Instead, the so called “emissions cap” only applies to instate power generation, ignoring the emissions from almost a third of NJ electric power demand.
The highly touted NJ “Global Warming Response Act” (GWRA) does not provide DEP with regulatory authority to control green house gas emissions from instate power plants or electric imports. Major polluters, like PSEG, convinced the Legislature not to delegate strong authority to DEP to regulate green house gas emissions. Instead, market based policies were adopted as preferable to disparaged “regulatory command and control”.
In addition to neutering DEP on the regulatory front, the BPU was not granted strong economic tools.
Instead of authorizing BPU to use contract powers and craft economic incentives to reduce emissions from dirty coal imports, the Legislature sought to minimize any impacts on consumer electric bills (just 50 cents per month per household). As a result, the fine print of the GWRA provides no effective authority to use the Board’s economic powers to limit dirty coal electric imports. The GWRA vaguely directs the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to monitor the problem and then react to adopt a mitigation policy after problems emerge.
The weak approach of the NJ GWRA contrasts sharply with the strong proactive regulatory and economic powers provided under the California Global Warming Solutions Act. California law provides strong regulatory and economic tools, plus the resources, scientists, and staff to enforce them.
Under the California law, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) prevents electricity distributors from signing power import contracts that don’t meet strict State environmental standards. NJ’s BPU does not do that.
The California law requires power plants to include an additional pollution cost for carbon emissions, including those “imported” from other states. NJ BPU does not do that.
According to the UCS Report, California’s efforts to deal with such emissions have caused cancellation of at least one out-of-state coal plant project, by creating uncertainty about its economic viability.
Former DEP Commissioner Jackson negotiated both the GWRA and RGGI. Jackson’s global warming “accomplishments” have been offered as a model for the Obama national program.
Let’s hope that Jackson does not look to her NJ experience to develop the national global warming program as head of US EPA.
If Jackson does, let’s hope that Carol Browner, Obama “Energy and Global Warming Czar” in the White House, blocks Jackson from doing so.

Here is UCS Press Release:
[Note: I can’t seem to post these replies so I will do so in the text of the post:
1. Dear TomTallTree:
You present straw man options – false choices.
Just like Peeltheonion, you also focus exclusively on supply and ignore cheaper and cleaner demand side solutions.
There are many more options than you list.
We don’t need to turn out the lights, take cold showers, or build new fossil or nuke power plants (or windmills in every backyard).
About 50% or more of the energy we use is wasted.
We lose a lot in more how we distribute electrical energy.
With existing technology, we could become 50% more efficient.
Existing renewable energy technology could meet existing demand of an energy efficient economy and future growth.
It would also save us money, cut air pollution, provide more jobs, and dampen global warming.
2. Dear peeltheonion – but – technologically speaking – you’re still cutting butter with a chainsaw –
and you haven’t addressed either the economic arguments (ROI), the liability/risk arguments, or the DEMAND side arguments.

  1. wesleyofjc
    March 26th, 2009 at 15:21 | #1

    Let’s see how many times we can use the term “dirty coal”. If you repeat it often enough it must be true. Let’s try it with other phrases: “windmills are bird killers”. Repeat 800 times.
    Coal is domestic, scrubbers clean out the bad stuff. Carbon dioxide is non-toxic, is produced in your very own lungs when you breathe and has as much to do with the Earth’s temperature as the Mets’ pitching staff.

  2. peeltheonion
    March 26th, 2009 at 15:29 | #2

    Any competent scientific approach to creating an increasing baseload supply of electricity capable of meeting the demands of useage in an economy of full productive employment, and rising standards of living, can only be met by massively expanded use of nuclear power. The increased efficiency and expanded use of different ranges of thermal heat drawn off for industrial and even residential uses, make the fourth generation pebble bed Julich type reactor what should be a prime choice of design. Having been proven melt-down proof, it can even be located in urban areas and be used in a setting for desalinization of water for potable use. Many sites already involved in burning coal for steam turbine electical generation, could be replaced with such standardized clean nuclear plants, instead of massively expensive “clean coal” upgrades to existing plants. Many existing older plants, like Oyster Creek, already contain multiple footprint sites where new plants can be installed, and then older ones replaced with added new ones for matching increased demand for growing surrounding areas, or for integrated use in industrial settings.

  3. nohesitation
    March 26th, 2009 at 15:33 | #3

    Hey Dr. Strangelove (I mean peeltheonion):
    WE don’t need no stinking nukes.
    Dollar for dollar on a purely economic investment ROI basis, they can’t compete with “negawatts”.
    On a risk basis, no private capital will invest in the industry.
    On a long term environmental basis, we haven’t solved storage, or disposal issues.
    Uranium mining and processing create huge environmental impacts.
    And then there are security and social, cultural and economic costs of the national security state apparatus to support the “nuclear priesthood”.
    No thanks.

  4. nohesitation
    March 26th, 2009 at 15:38 | #4

    Yo Wesleyofjc – you mean that the phrase “clean coal” is teh big lie, didn’t you?
    CO2 is a greenhouse gas – in case you’ve been living in a cave, GHG contribute to global warming.
    And then there is mercury, NOx, SOx, acid gases, fine particulates – all of which are emitted by dirty cola power plants.
    And then there is the mining of the coal – which kills workers and destroys communities (Hint: just google “mountaintop mining”)

  5. peeltheonion
    March 26th, 2009 at 16:33 | #5

    There is no “waste” problem.Contained in the replaced fuel rods, once reprocessed to remove the useable isotopes for medical, laboratory and other uses, is many years worth of fuel grade material for new fuel rods. The nuclear reaction cycle actually produces more fuel, and combined with use of “breeder reactors”, abandoned during the Carter Presidency is the potential to produce many decades worth of fuel from now unuseable Uranium. That is scientifically proven real renewable energy. The U.S., South Africa, China, Japan, France, Russia ,and other nations are already in preliminary discussions on standardized design and cooperation on Pebble-bed, Breeder reactor, and fusion energy development.

  6. peeltheonion
    March 26th, 2009 at 16:51 | #6

    Also a great article to read, from 21rst Century Science and Technology, is: The Astoundingly High Cost of “Free” Energy.

  7. nohesitation
    March 26th, 2009 at 17:29 | #7

    hey peeltheonion – you mean entropy? enthalpy? thermodynamics?
    I actually did once study such things many moons ago!

  8. TomTallTree
    March 26th, 2009 at 17:38 | #8

    We have several choices;
    1 – Turn off your electricity, stop using electric power.
    2 – Build new power plants here in New Jersey
    3- Towns need to volunteer to host new power plants.
    4 – People need to volunteer to have windmills in their back yard, or across the street from them.
    If you don’t support any of the above, shut up and turn on your lights.

  9. peeltheonion
    March 26th, 2009 at 19:15 | #9

    The following is just a short excerpt from ” the astounding high cost of free energy”. Over the course of human history, there have been several progressive increases in the energy density of the fuels employed. The transition from wood burning to coal (which is almost four times more energy-dense than wood), took place in Europe in the 18th Century. The higher temperatures and regulation that could be achieved with coal fires permitted the introduction of new technologies related to smelting of ores, steelmaking, and other techniques. Until the 1950s, coal was the primary energy source for industry and transportation, and it remains the principal fuel used for electricity generation in the U.S.A.
    Oil is about 50% more energy-dense than coal. The advantage of oil over coal as a fuel for powering steam ships became a factor in geopolitics at the close of the 19th Century, with the conversion of the British Royal Navy from coal- to oil-fired steam boilers. The weight advantage of oil, and its ease of handling (not requiring manual stokers to feed the fire), increased the range and efficiency of warships. The lighter derivatives of petroleum, such as gasoline, benzene, and kerosene, are among the most energy-dense liquids, which made them desirable as a transportation fuel–as long as they last.
    But each of these improvements in the energy density of fuels was dwarfed by the discovery of atomic energy. As illustrated in the accompanying figure, a barely visible speck of uranium fuel, when fully fissioned, is equivalent to 1,260 gallons of fuel oil (weighing 4.5 tons), 6.15 tons of coal, or 23.5 tons of dry wood. When compared by weight, the advantage of uranium fuel over the older types is as follows:
    Advantage per unit weight of Uranium
    … over Wood: 11.5 million times
    … over Coal: 3.0 million times
    … over Petroleum: 2.2 million times
    We shall be modest and note that these figures are derived by assuming that all of the fissionable uranium in the fuel pellet is burned up (fully fissioned). The fuel burn-up rate in many presently operating reactors, may be only about 4%, although it is higher in advanced reactor designs. Thus, the figures above need to be divided by 25, giving nuclear power, in the worst-case scenario, an energy density advantage over wood, coal, and petroleum of only 88,000 to 460,000. However, with fuel reprocessing, a form of recycling, the burn-up rate is nearly total. Because of the production of extra neutrons in the fission reaction, new fuel can be created by nuclear transmutation as the old fuel burns up. The full nuclear fuel cycle, employing reprocessing and fuel breeding, is a virtually limitless cycle. Nuclear is the only fuel that replaces itself as it burns.
    Energy Flux Density
    To progress from the concept of energy density to energy flux density, it is necessary to have a deeper conception of the notion of work. In physics-textbook terms, energy is the same as work. It was one of the great achievements of 19th-Century physics, to demonstrate the equivalence of heat, electricity, and mechanical motion, resolving all these forms of energy (work), and others, to a common measure. Thus, the technical definition of energy flux density would simply be the amount of energy passing across a given surface area in a unit of time. An example of a higher energy flux density could be had by comparing the capability of a sharp knife to a dull one. Holding the sharper knife, the same work exerted by the hand is concentrated over a smaller surface area. The energy flux density is greater and the sharp knife is able to cut where the dull one cannot.
    By that method of accounting, the energy flux density produced by the fission of a single uranium atom can be shown to be from about 20 million to 20 quadrillion times greater than that gained by burning a molecule of an energy-dense fuel, such as natural gas.[6] However, even this astounding numerical advantage does not yet comprehend the essential difference. To understand energy flux density in the context of physical economy, a higher conception of work is required. It is not sufficient to regard work, as we do in physics, merely as the expenditure of energy measured in calories, joules, kilowatt-hours, or electron volts.
    Rather, when considering a physical economy, we must look at the transformative power of the work. Something akin to the skilled worker’s maxim “don’t work hard, work smart,” is appropriate as a first approximation of the concept. Implied in the saying is the idea, that by application of the human mind, the same expenditure of effort can be made more efficient, perhaps by use of a different tool, or by the improvisation of a new one, or by organizing the process in a different way. In the case of nuclear, as opposed to chemical or mechanical processes, a higher order sort of innovation is at work. Here, we are dealing with the introduction of a new discovery of universal physical principle, the revolution in physical chemistry which began with the Curies’ separation of the first gram of radium, and proceeded through the identification of the radioactive decay process, nuclear transmutation, the energy-mass relation, the nucleus, the isotope, the neutron, the accelerator, the discovery of fission, the chain reaction, and so forth.
    Apart from the questions of cost and efficiency, the fallacy of saying that wind and solar can be made to generate electricity, just as nuclear power can, is that it leaves out the transformative power which the application of this new universal physical principle permits. Nuclear energy works smarter, vastly smarter, than wind, solar, or fossil fuels ever can. The reason is not merely its superior energy flux density, measured in caloric terms, but the transformation in the physical economic process as a whole which it can accomplish.
    With the fission of each uranium nucleus, several tiny entities, part particle and part wave, are released at velocities approaching that of the speed of light. These particle/waves, which we call neutrons, have the ability to penetrate the nucleus of another nearby atom, and to transform it into a new element, a process known as transmutation. But this is only the beginning, for that new element may, in turn, spontaneously transmute into another, and another, producing a family of by-products (isotopes) which finally settle into a stable form. By mastering the chemistry of these transformations, we have the ability to make new materials, some known and some yet to be discovered, which will be of benefit to future human life. We have also the benefit of the rays these isotopes give off, at least three different types, and each one at a different strength. Their uses in diagnosis and treatment of an array of dangerous diseases are proven, and every day brings new possibilities.

  10. givmeliberty
    March 27th, 2009 at 22:22 | #10

    Peeltheonion, thanks for taking the time to explain all that. I have long felt that the public is handicapped by having an inadequate understanding of the science involved in all of this.
    I have a friend who is an envi sci professor who says that global warming is a done deal. At incredible cost, we might be able to slow it slightly, but not stop it. With what is going on in the third world, it all seems rather pointless. He told me that the Chinese are setting fire to veins of coal in the ground to use the resulting heat. Talk about dirty coal.
    I am not sure what the answer is, but nuclear energy would at least work with our existing grid, and will not require the huge investment in batteries that windmills will require. I hope that science, uncontaminated with politics, will supply the answers.

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