Advocates offer different solutions for world’s energy future
Coal is the answer, said Fred Palmer, senior vice president of government relations for Peabody Energy, which owns Twenty Mile Coal Co. in Routt County.
The United States needs energy, and the world needs more and more.
“Electricity – like air, fire and water – is necessary to sustain life,” Palmer said. “In the United States, coal is electricity.”
Palmer was one of several energy industry officials who spoke at the Fueling Thought Energy Summit 2009 last week, hosted by Yampa Valley Partners at the Holiday Inn of Craig.
Coal is the “cornerstone” of the world’s energy supply, Palmer said. In 2005, it accounted for 49 percent of consumed power and is projected to only dip down to 46 percent of the total supply by 2030.
And coal is the answer to how America reduces its carbon emissions, Palmer added.
Electricity is the most efficient way to use energy, he said, and coal is the easiest and cheapest way to generate electricity.
The answer, then, for how to protect the environment while at the same time protecting the economy is to switch all energy use to electricity, even cars and other vehicles, and power them mainly with coal, Palmer said.
His industry is not afraid of greenhouse gas legislation, but there has to be room for coal to be profitable, he added.
“We want carbon legislation,” Palmer said. “We want to create a market for clean coal to penetrate. We don’t want legislation that shuts down coal production, because society won’t work.”
The coal industry wants to and needs to work with the U.S. government, he said. Clean “green” coal, when the technology has been perfected by about 2030, will be the best low-cost, low-emission fuel, and the government’s help developing that technology is welcome.
“The importance of government cannot be denied,” Palmer said. “The only venture capital firm in the world today is in Washington, D.C., and it’s called the United States of America. We have to find a way to live in this world, and we have to find a way to address the environmental and economic challenges that we face.”
Other speakers differed from his perspective. Among them were three natural gas company executives who all said their product would be the country’s best resource for the future.
Paul Matheny, Questar Exploration & Production vice president of the Rockies Division, said there is at least a century’s worth of proven domestic natural gas reserves. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, and at the very least, can be the bridge between traditional and alternative fuels, such as solar and wind.
The problem with natural gas, however, is the consumer price, Palmer said, which is a point that environmental activists at the event agreed with.
Pam Kiely, legislative director for Environment Colorado, a statewide lobby group, said Palmer’s criticism of certain fuels as being too economically unstable “hits the nail on the head.”
She does not, however, think coal is the best answer.
“The question is how to provide electricity to consumers that is stable and won’t be the subject of big price swings dictated by markets and politics,” Kiely said. “Frankly, the answer to that is renewables. Once you create the infrastructure, the fuel cost is zero.”
She added that no rational person would oppose research and development for technology that provides clean and efficient use of fossil fuels.
“I don’t think there’s any part of me that opposes that research and that development,” Kiely said. “The thing I’m concerned about is we’re really going to get sidetracked for 15 or 20 years going after a technology that may or may not ever exist, when the ultimate answer, no matter how long we use coal, is renewables. Everything else, including coal, is going to run out eventually.”
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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