Clean coal technology empowers future electricity

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President Bush's new energy policy is causing many to take a second look at America's most abundant, affordable and reliable energy resource electricity from coal. However, some are criticizing the President's efforts to encourage clean coal technologies without truly understanding our growing demand for electricity and the need to meet that demand.

In a perfect world, fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, would not have to be extracted and burned to produce electricity. Yet these fuels and especially coal, which produces more than 80 percent of Colorado's electricity provide the reliable source of electricity that Colorado businesses and homeowners count on every day. Colorado is a leading state in creating renewable energy through wind, solar, hydro and geothermal resources, and these will continue to be critical elements of the state's and nation's energy policy. However, coal and natural gas will always be a part of the state's generation mix. Therefore, it's important to do all we can to minimize all environmental impacts the use of these fuels may have.

Producing cleaner electricity from coal is nothing new. The battle to make America's primary source of electricity cleaner has been on America's front burner for more than 20 years. For example, in 198O, Congress spent over $2 billion pioneering the Department of Energy's Clean Coal Technology program. This money was used to sponsor 31 clean coal technology-driven demonstration projects, which focused on creating cleaner production via "coal gasification "

The cleanest types of plants are coal gasification plants, which turn coal into a gas, and then filter out impurities before the gas is burned to generate electricity. During this process, approximately 95 percent of the sulfur pollutants are extracted and then recycled into commercially valuable products. Once cleaned, the coal gases are burned in a gas turbine, and then the turbine's exhaust is used to boil water for a conventional steam turbine-generator. The combination of gas and steam turbines increases the plant's efficiency. Higher efficiencies mean that fuel is conserved, greenhouse gases are reduced, and consumers see lower electricity costs. Such revolutionary innovations in clean coal technology are helping to make electricity from coal a fuel of the future. Some projects around the country already employing clean coal technologies are yielding promising results in improved efficiency and reduced emissions.

Technological advances have dramatically reduced coal-based power emissions over the years. In fact, clean coal technologies have advanced to the point where engineers and energy experts estimate that by the year 2020, we will be able to produce emission-free electricity from coal. With a 250-year domestic supply, we would be foolish to overlook coal or- as some are trying to do - remove it entirely from our nation's energy mix.

Moreover, Colorado's electricity generating plants have the seventh cleanest emissions rate in the nation. Over the ten-year period, 1989-1998, "total criteria air pollutants" (those pollutants affecting human health) in the state decreased by 16 percent despite a 20 percent increase in population, a 63 percent increase in the Gross State Product and a 21 percent increase in electricity generation. Further emission reductions are expected with the implementation of Phase II of the 1990 Clean Air Act, requiring environmental technologies to be used at three additional, Denver-area electric power stations.

Nationally, we depend on coal to provide 52 percent of our country's electricity. Statewide, this percentage rises dramatically with Coloradoans depending on more than 80 percent of their electricity generated from coal. The President's new energy initiative seeks to encourage technologies that will make our most abundant energy resource, coal, a cleaner and more efficient fuel of the future.

(Dave Lock is the Executive Director of the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities. CAMU is a non-profit organization that represents the 32 cities and towns throughout Colorado that own and operate their own electric and natural gas systems.)

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