Sunday, December 21, 2014

Coal - The Confounding Energy Source for a Climate Change Worrier

It seems unlikely that I will be anointed as King of the U.S. any time soon, so my conflicted attitude about coal really is not going to be much of a difference maker. But for a "warmest" like myself that cares about the American economy, it is: a) challenging to oppose efforts to reduce the burning of coal in the U.S, but b) impossible to support restrictions on coal use that limit the economic advantage this cheap source of energy gives the U.S. 

My daughter spent a spring break in the coal country of West Virginia. She said it was devastating to see beautiful mountain tops being lopped off in order to supply coal to India. This practice is incredibly controversial even in coal country. But, as long as the number of coal burning power plants are growing in China, India, and Germany, it seems fruitless to shut down American coal burning power plants.

Much of the success European's claim in reducing CO2 emissions is simply due to their shipping many of their most pollution intensive jobs off to Asia. Thus, their regulations and taxes have had barely any impact on global releases of heat trapping gases, while sending thousands of good jobs off to Asia. (And as a side note, now that the Germans have shut down their older, but still perfectly viable nuclear plants, that country's emissions are increasing dramatically due to increased burning of coal. Small businesses and consumers in Germany are paying higher rates for electricity and German tax dollars are being spent subsidizing large industries)

Banning coal plants in the U.S. would put our economy at a huge disadvantage, while having little impact on worldwide emissions of heat trapping gases. And further, it would put the power supply at risk, unless we build a plethora of new gas fired plants, at huge expense, Burning gas releases plenty of CO2 emissions as well, and the supply of cheap gas is not infinite either.

Yet as a "warmest", I would love to see all coal plants worldwide shut down, not just due to the heat trapping gases they emit, but also because of the mercury and other toxic chemicals they put into the air, particularly the coal plants in Asia that don't use scrubber technology.Pollutants from China are being carried all the way to Lake Tahoe

It was only a couple of years ago that I was infatuated with wind and solar. Yet I now consider these energy sources only a partial solution unless reasonably price utility scale storage becomes feasible. Wind and solar offer a partial solution to reducing fossil fuel burning, but seem unlikely to be a complete solution on a global basis. 

The only complete solution to reducing the burning of coal by power plants is to come up with a technology that is cheaper than coal and does not suffer from an intermittency problem. Nuclear and/or fusion are probably the only viable candidates for a cheaper than coal solution. Advanced technology holds the potential to be far safer and cheaper than existing nuclear technology. Regulations and taxes that penalize U.S. businesses are unlikely to pass in the current Congress, nor is tax payer supported funding of solar and wind technology development. 

Now I am really getting off topic, but here is my latest rant.

It is only in the context of the U.S. Budget that $3 billion can be considered chump change, but that is the case as far as spending by the U.S government on advanced energy technology. And that $3 trillion is fragmented in so many ways that the sum of the parts is way less than the total would suggest.

Not that I have anything against NASA, but it seems ridiculous to me that our government is spending $18 billion on NASA and less than $3 billion on advanced energy technology. Here are excepts that show how fragmented the spending is:

The Department of Energy's (DOE) budget includes

Fusion Energy Sciences:
The FY 2014 appropriation was $504.7 million
The FY 2015 request is $416.0 million, a decrease of $88.7 million or 17.6 percent
The House bill provides $540.0 million, an increase of $35.3 million or 7.0 percent above current funding
The report has two pages detailing the committee’s funding recommendations and guidance for the fusion energy sciences program.  It gives strong support for the domestic fusion program.     
High Energy Physics:
The FY 2014 appropriation was $796.5 million
The FY 2015 request is $744.0 million, a decrease of $52.5 million or 6.6 percent
The House bill provides $775.0 million, a decrease of $21.5 million or 2.7 percent below current funding
There is lengthy report language.  
Nuclear Physics:
The FY 2014 appropriation was $569.1 million
The FY 2015 request is 593.6 million, an increase of $24.4 million or 4.3 percent
The House bill provides $600.0 million, an increase of $30.9 million or 5.4 percent above current funding
The report includes language pertaining to the 12GeV Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.
DOE Office of Nuclear Energy

  • DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy is funded at $914 million, an increase of $24.3 million over the FY14 funding level. Nuclear energy research and development programs that receive funding within the $914 million allocation include several of the following:
    • The Idaho Operations and Infrastructure account, which covers infrastructure maintenance and improvements at Idaho National Laboratory, is funded at $200.6 million – a $20 million increase over last year.
    • The National Science User Facility program is funded at $36.5 million – an increase of $18 million above the President’s request.  Increases under this program are directed to fully complete the installation of post-irradiation examination equipment at INL’s Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory (IMCL).
    • Small Modular Reactor Licensing Support Programs are funded at $55 million.   This funding is slated for NuScale Power’s Small Modular Reactor which is proposed for construction in Idaho.
    • The Light Water Reactor Sustainability program, which is managed by INL and promotes the continued safe operation of America’s existing nuclear reactors, is funded at $35 million, an increase of $5 million over FY14 and the budget request.
    • The Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration account is funded at $133 million – an increase of $20 million above fiscal year 2014 and $32.5 million above the President’s request. Within the overall $133 million level for this account, $33 million is allocated to fuel qualification for the High Temperature Gas Reactor, $11 million above the budget request.
    • The Advanced Fuels program within Fuel Cycle Research and Development is funded at $60.1 million, the same as last year and $17 million above the President’s budget request, and Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition research and development is funded at $49 million, $19 million above FY14.
  • Within the Office of Naval Reactors, the bill includes $68 million for the operation of the Advanced Test Reactor, an increase of $1.5 million above FY14.
  • Within the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the bill includes $5 million to continue development of an Electric Grid Test Bed program to enhance existing full-scale electric grid testing capabilities like those at Idaho National Laboratory.
  • The bill also provides $380 million for cleanup activities associated with the Idaho Cleanup Project and the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project co-located on the Idaho desert with Idaho National Laboratory. This represents an increase of $13 million above the President’s request to fully support workplan alignments needed for Idaho’s transuranic waste program as a result of the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. 
  • Includes an additional $2 million for the National Spent Fuel Program, putting the unique expertise of INL to work in order to provide solutions for managing the Department of Energy’s inventories of spent nuclear fuel.
  • Prohibits the U.S. Corps of Engineers from requiring Clean Water Act section 404 permits for certain agricultural activities, such as construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches.
  • Directs the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army to withdraw the interpretive rule, “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army Interpretive Rule Regarding the Applicability of the Clean Water Act 4 Section 404(f)(1)(A).” Section 404 of the Clean Water Act exempts certain agricultural activities, such as soil and water conservation practices, from regulation. The interpretive rule would have limited that exemption significantly. 

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