The future is black

Coal generated electricity on the rise

Meeker Mayor and Colowyo Mine employee Steve Loshbaugh has seen plenty of changes in Colorado's coal industry.

"Twenty years ago, the industry seemed to be on its last legs," he said at Thursday's Northwest Colorado Coal Conference. "Times have changed. Haul truck sizes have doubled, along with production in the state. The future is looking bright."

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Loshbaugh's comments opened the discussion on "The Future of Colorado Coal" at the 20th annual Northwest Colorado Coal Conference, held at the Holiday Inn of Craig.

Several other speakers echoed Loshbaugh's comments, as they noted that Colorado is the seventh leading coal producer of coal in the United States. Most Colorado coal reserves are found in the state's northwest portion.

Coal and coal mining have both experienced a resurgence, said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association.

"Prices are up, and there is an increase in world demand," he said. "Coal is necessary to keep the light on and energy costs down."

Coal is especially important as 27 percent of the world's coal is in the U.S., and in 2004, 50 percent of the nation's electricity was produced by coal-fired power plants, Sanderson said.

Although the amount of U.S. coal-produced electricity has tripled since the 1970s, emissions and particulate matter released have been reduced in the 2000s, and a near-zero emissions power plant is possible in the future, Sanderson said.

"Colorado produced 36 million tons of coal in 2006 from its 11 mines," he said. "Production increased after Congress passed the Clean-Air Act because Colorado coal is low sulfur and cleaner burning than the coal in other states."

The need for coal and especially coal-generated electricity was the point stressed by Bruce Smith with the Colorado Energy Forum.

"In 1950, the average individual used 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Now an individual uses 12,000 kilowatt hours annually," he said. "In Colorado, 73 percent of that electricity comes from coal."

As the demand for electricity grows, Colorado will need to overcome transmission restraints on the system, by building the transmission lines needed to support demand. Smith foresees a $2 billion investment in transmission projects during the next 10 years, as the Front Range's demand for electricity will require 75 percent of the power produced in the state.

Jack Jones, from the global solutions arm of the Shell Oil Company, said the future of coal power plants lies in the gasification technology developed by his company.

"Coal is dried and pulverized, with pressure and high temperatures added until gasses are released," he said. "Even the heat released during the gasification process can be used to generate steam."

The technology for gasification is already being used in Holland, Spain and China, he said, with Holland using the carbon dioxide released for growing plants in greenhouses, leaving virtually no waste products from the electrical generation process.

"Turning coal to gas is already a commercial technology being used," Jones said.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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