Alexander pushes 'cleaner' coal; at what cost?

By: Gordon Boyd Email
By: Gordon Boyd Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A top executive for American Electric Power puts it pretty bluntly.

"There's no doubt that coal is under siege in this country," says AEP Vice President Nick Akin.

Whether it's the burning debate over global warming, or the Tennessee Valley's estimated $1.2 billion cleanup of the coal ash flood at its Kingston power plant;

"We need to reduce these emissions from these dirty coal plants," says Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

A bill that Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is co-sponsoring would give coal-fired power plants five years to cut their releases
of mercury by 90 percent, five years to cut nitrogen oxide by 53 percent, and eight years to cut sulfur dioxide emissions 80 percent.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide can contribute to breathing problems and lung diseases.

Mercury can contaminate crops and water supplies.

"TVA has seen this coming for a long time," Smith says.

"This puts some solid timelines on it and holds their feet to the fire, so it will require utilities to do some additional retrofit to those plants."

"Those decisions haven't been made," says TVA spokesperson Barbara Martocci.

The past quarter century, TVA has spent more than $5 billion on scrubbers -- exhaust cleaners, at six of its eleven coal-fired power plants.

Two scrubber units are set to go on-line in Kingston.

What's not clear, whether those scrubbers could achieve the standard Alexander's bill would mandate.

"I would expect that if there are additional requirements for the reduction of sulfer dioxide or nitrogen oxides, that we would have to do more than we're doing," Martocci says.

What that might cost, Martocci says TVA couldn't even guesstimate yet.

But costs; to TVA, and to you, she says will weigh heavily in deciding whether to re-fit or shut down coal power plants as TVA develops its energy strategy for the next twenty years.

SACE's Smith cites some shortcomings.

"It (Alexander's bill) is likely not going to be taken as serious as if he had worked out the carbon piece," he says.

Carbon is considered the prime culprit in causing the so-called greenhouse gases that some scientists blame for 'climate change' and
'global warming.'

TVA competitor, American Electric Power, is testing
'capture technology' designed to bury such gases--though it's not clear how safely or for how long.

"Leaving out the carbon component, I doubt Sen. Alexander can get his plan through this year," Smith says

Sen. Alexander has opposed the Cap-and-Trade bill, which would mandate that industries and power companies that exceed carbon emission standards would face either fines, or be required to buy 'credits' to offset such emissions. The Senator maintains
such a plan would make electricity more expensive and drive jobs overseas.

"This bill is about good health, tourism, and jobs," Sen. Alexander
is quoted in a Senate news release.

"Passage will not only help us clean up our nation's power sector, and our nation's air, it also will provide the certainty and predictability that an important industry in America needs."


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