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Catfish and Cod
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Clean what?

If one watches any of the major cable news channels long enough, one will see an add by Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (an obvious front for the coal industry) for coal power, touting "clean coal technology". Does anyone believe that "clean coal technology" actually means cleaner emissions? It certainly seems totally ridiculous to me. And even if the energy companies have (voluntarily!) invested in better scrubbers, why are they advertising this on national TV? Are they trying to convince us to buy more power from coal companies, or just trying to improve their image?

Coal really is likely to produce more of our power in the next couple of years, but that certainly is not because coal is a wonderful way to generate power. True, coal can be obtained from the territory of the U.S. But so can natural gas, and we've plenty of that. There are old wells, and pipelines, and storage fields, for methane gas all over Mississippi (and Alabama and Louisiana too). I know that we still don't have good enough solar panels to convert our energy economy to truly renewable sources just yet. Thus, we must remain dependent on fossil fuels for the time being. Natural gas, which can be quickly generated from both the ground and from biological sources, is a far better choice for our new power plants than coal, which can't be made in less than 100 million years. Unfortunately, we capped most of our natural gas wells in the 80's for obscure reasons, and they can't be re-started for several years. Coupled with a high price for oil, coal becomes a short-term attractive proposition.

But even if we are going to burn more coal in the next few years, why toot your horn about it? The strategy only makes sense if coal is trying to maintain its dominance by using the oil issue to position itself as a long-term, domestic, stable energy supply. Hence the tag-line "Coal: 250 year domestic energy supply". But natural gas is a domestic energy source, and so is solar power. They're both better for the environment. One is already economically competitive, and the other should be in the next 10-15 years.

Conclusion: the coal industries will be atrophing over the next few decades, as the railroads already have. No amount of "clean coal technology" will save them. Invest in natural gas, guys.