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Yael Abouhalkah is wrong. (It’s more complicated, of course…)



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At least in part.

See his Kansas City Star editorial, Sebelius, coal-fired power plants and environmentalists:

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is absolutely right to oppose building a greatly expanded coal-fired plant. But environmentalists need to back off their no-more-coal-in-Kansas arguments. Sebelius has.

While environmental groups rally behind Sebelius, they need to remember the governor has backed a compromise in the dispute over the coal-fired plant in western Kansas.

She says she’ll support construction of a smaller expansion for Sunflower Electric. It’s the proper call. The state still needs coal to supply some of the additional electricity being sucked up by customers.

But environmental groups still seem to think the state only needs to add some wind-powered farms and everything will be fine. That’s not true. …

Abouhalkah goes on to say that wind won’t be able to supply all the power Kansan’s need at the right cost, that Kansan’s will be eagerly watching, and that if legislator’s do sustain the Governor’s veto they should move ahead with the compromise on a smaller coal-fired plant.

Both Abouhalkah and the Governor are wrong to offer a smaller coal plant, and for many reasons.

The first is a theme repeated throughout this web site. Any coal power plant, whether small or large, is a step in the wrong direction. Kansas needs to start a program of significant reduction in emissions, not discuss how to shorten the degree to which emissions are going to increase! The issues are how to balance the desires and needs of present and future generations, and how to achieve them with possible and economically feasible technology and social policy.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (1) (2), which establishes an intention for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide from power plants. Now the Kansas legislature clearly is not in accord with this intention, but the very presence of so many regional governor’s move toward significant cuts in carbon dioxide emissions should provide a context for this discussion.

(We will discuss the issue of economic development that a power plant will bring in another article–an issue brought up by Representative Tim Owens in discussions with concerned citizens today.)

Many environmentalists argue that a smaller plant is better than a larger one. That may be true, but is “better” in only insignificant ways. The distance between a 10% to 15% increase from achieving a 20% decrease in carbon emissions is certainly smaller than the distance of a 17% to 18% increase from a 20% decrease in carbon emissions in the next decade or so. This “improvement” is not facing exactly backwards from the target, but turning so the desired destination might be slightly visible in the outside rear view mirror.

And a smaller plant taken out of commission later will save Kansas rate payers money over the cost of an even larger plant taken out of commission. But even that is not very significant as plant costs don’t scale linearly at that size.

The main problem is that the discussion should not be ending that easily. Though legislators are extremely tired, the issue needs to continue next session. And it will continue, no matter what is done on this particular plant and legislation–just the basis for the discussion will be different. National priorities will bring the issue back to the states, one way or the other, and scientific discoveries of the degree of climate disruption will continue to bring pressure to act.

All very immediate power needs can be met by aggressive consumption efficiency and conservation programs alone (3). (That won’t deal with the issue of economic development, except for increasing sales of efficiency technology in Western Kansas. Sales of compact fluorecent lights will go a long way toward solving immediate shortages.) Abouhalkah, regulators, legislators all tend to speak in terms of the “needs” of citizens for increasing power, as though this was a foregone conclusion. It most certainly is not, and can be modified considerably in ways that make communities more livable, and get people involved in solving common problems.

Next wind is becoming very competitive. Immediately, this second, is the dollar for dollar trade off better? Your author does not know the answer, but that is the point–it is that close of a call! It depends upon the size of the development program, and its timing and financing. Who is going to build it? No one until Kansan’s make a commitment, when the “known quantity” of coal plants is the only real option being discussed. But many companies are trying to bring up discussions and options, if policies are supportive.

Furthermore local, distributed generation capacity, wind generators in local farms, will bring profits and small but significant load offset capacities.

Do we need some kind of major fossil fuel power plant, to assure we do not have brown outs?

A natural gas fired power plant can be a very useful tool here. The fuel costs are significantly higher and rising quickly, possibly 6 cents or so per KW Hour more, substantially more than of coal (4). But coal is also quickly increasing in price, and the spectre of carbon emissions regulation in the near future makes coal’s cost a significant issue as well. Gas produces less than half the carbon dioxide per KWH generated (4).

A gas fired plant can follow the ups and downs of wind generation–thus complimenting the building of wind generation systems. A gas plant is an investment in the future that can be done with immediately available technology, and will solve immediate requirements. It may not satisfy the financial profitability of certain investors, but is a good investment for Kansas when compared to coal-fired power plants.

Are all “brown outs” a bad thing? That is another article as well, but the issues are about risks, coordination, technology, and social policy. Kansan’s don’t have just one possible future–there are many paths to choose from and many of those paths allow for local development, livable communities, and energy conserving lifestyles all at the same time. Things won’t become “fine” in one easy step, this will be one of the largest continuing issues of the century.

We won’t get there if the discussion centers on how large the coal fired plant should be.

Reference(1): Pew Center: State and Local Net Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Programs.

Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord
On November 15, 2007, six states and one Canadian province established the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. Under the Accord, members agree to establish regional greenhouse gas reduction targets, including a long-term target of 60 to 80 percent below current emissions levels, and develop a multi-sector cap-and-trade system to help meet the targets. Participants will also establish a greenhouse gas emissions reductions tracking system and implement other policies, such as low-carbon fuel standards, to aid in reducing emissions. The Governors of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, as well as the Premier of the Canadian Province of Manitoba, signed the Accord as full participants; the Governors of Indiana, Ohio, and South Dakota joined the agreement as observers to participate in the development of the cap and trade system. The Accord represents the third regional agreement among U.S. states to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and will be fully implemented within 30 months.

Reference (2): Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord

Governors Sign Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform and Greenhouse Gas Accord

Washington, D.C. – Ten Midwestern leaders – Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Governor Chester J. Culver of Iowa, Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio, Governor M. Michael Rounds of South Dakota, and Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba – today signed the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord.

Reference (3): Clean Energy Virtual Power Plant, U.S Department of Energy. Note the passage:

Customer-sited energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies together can offset or generate sufficient electricity that, in the aggregate, they amount to a virtual power plant. Studies indicate that investments in energy efficiency are significantly less expensive than new power plant construction. Other research indicates that, because energy efficiency tends to be labor intensive, it creates more local jobs than conventional central station power plants — jobs that are sustained over time. This results in additional dollars injected into local or state economies. When those dollars are spent, a multiplier effect is created that benefits the local economy.

Reference (4): On cost of energy using coal vs. natural gas: New York Times Citing Global Warming, Kansas Denies Plant Permit

The Kansas decision points to a problem in determining the value of carbon dioxide. Mr. Miller said that as an alternative, the cooperatives could build plants powered by natural gas, which creates half as much carbon dioxide per unit of heat produced. But at a market price of $8 per million B.T.U.’s for gas, the fuel cost for a kilowatt-hour from the co-op’s existing gas-fired plant is about 8 cents, while from coal, the price is 1.5 cents. (A new plant would need less gas to make a kilowatt-hour, experts say, but the price difference would still be substantial.)

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