As the debate over “clean coal” rages on, General Electric is keen on offering up ideas to help coal transition from yesterday’s polluter to a greener source of energy.
John Krenicki, the head of GE’s energy infrastructure unit, says governments should invest in a dozen large-scale clean-coal demonstration plants in the United States, Europe, China and India. The plants would generate between 600-900 megawatts of power each and capture and sequester climate-changing greenhouse gases underground.
“We can change the game in coal for the next 100 years,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Some environmental groups consider clean coal nothing more than a fairy tale. The technology to capture and store carbon in an environmentally safe way is commercially untested and not yet cost competitive, they say.
But the U.S. stimulus package provided $3.4 billion for fossil energy research and development. Some of these funds could resurrect the FutureGen pilot clean coal project that was abandoned last year.
President Barack Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — all former Illinois legislators who fought hard for Illinois-based FutureGen — are now in positions to push clean coal forward.
The United States must show leadership in this area if it expects the rest of the world to do its part to combat climate change, according to Krenicki.
“We’re pursuing (projects) in the European Union and we’re pursuing them in China, but the answer from most countries is, ‘We’d like to see the U.S. lead,’” Krenicki said.
A 600 MW clean coal plant would cost more than $2 billion to build, but it would also create thousands of jobs in states hit hard by the economic downturn, he said.
Krenicki said the United States seems “paralyzed” by trying to jump to strictly green and renewable electricity generation from its dependence on fossil fuels. Clean coal, he says, is a needed evolutionary step to get the country out of the current stalemate to a green future.
Krenicki noted that with technologies like a smart grid and wind turbines the results are quick and easy for voters to see. “You can put points on the board so I think it’s politically acceptable,” he said of such projects.
“Some of these other technologies, like cleaner coal, you’re doing it for the next administration, even if you’re two-term,” he said.
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Photo credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid (GE’s John Krenicki); Reuters (A miner working at a coal mine in China)