Clean coal is dead, but the war on affordable energy is alive and well

FutureGen is dead. Again.

Last week, the Department of Energy pulled the plug on this $1.1 billion project in Illinois: a “clean coal” power plant that would capture carbon dioxide and store it underground.

President George W. Bush proposed the carbon-free power plant in 2003 but shelved the project five years later because of cost overruns. President Obama’s Energy Department revived the plant in 2010. Now, five years and $200 million later, the financing is being terminated because the project can’t be completed by its September deadline.

FutureGen isn’t the only carbon capture and sequestration plant to run into trouble. Southern Co.’s Kemper Plant in Mississippi — like FutureGen, a stimulus handout recipient — has been plagued with delays and cost overruns. The estimated cost, initially projected at $2 billion, now stands at $6.1 billion, making it the most costly coal-fired plant in U.S. history.

Mr. Obama wasn’t kidding when he said, in 2008: “So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” He just neglected to mention that taxpayers and ratepayers would be stuck with the tab.

Candidate Obama made the comment when pitching his “cap-and-trade” plan to make coal-generated electricity prohibitively expensive. But when Congress refused to pass cap-and-trade, the president decided to use the federal bureaucracy to regulate new and existing coal plants out of existence.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed regulations that effectively would ban construction of coal-fired electricity generating units. To meet emissions standards, new plants would have to install the carbon capture and sequestration technology that has driven Kemper and FutureGen into the financial ditch.

Bizarrely, the proposed rule cites both projects as evidence of significant progress toward commercialization of carbon capture and sequestration. In fact, they serve as exhibits A and B for why the federal government’s clean power plan is destined to drive up energy costs for families and businesses.

Coal remains the single largest electricity source in America. As a power source, it is plentiful, affordable and clean. The U.S. boasts 487 billion tons of coal recoverable with today’s technology. That is enough to provide electricity for over 500 years at current consumption rates.

Markets — not bureaucrats — should drive how much coal Americans use. But the administration seems committed to promulgating regulations that will drive coal plants off the grid and drive consumer energy costs through the roof.

Make no mistake: It’s not just “coal country” that would take an economic hit because of these regulations. Sharply higher energy prices will ripple throughout the economy, increasing the cost of producing and delivering virtually every type of good or service. Those costs will be passed on to consumers. As their pocketbooks absorb hit after hit, they will be forced to buy less. That, in turn, will force companies to shed employees, close entirely or move to other countries where the cost of doing business is lower.

Researchers in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis have examined how killing coal would affect our economy. Using a derivative of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s National Energy Model System, we found job losses of more than 600,000 by 2023.

Income for the typical family of four would drop more than $1,200 per year.

What does the planet receive in return for that economic sacrifice? A change in global temperatures almost too small to measure. Using a climate calculator and model developed by the EPA, climatologists Paul Knappenberger and Pat Michaels project that the EPA’s climate regulations would, by the end of the century, mitigate warming by 0.02 of a degree Celsius. High costs killed FutureGen again last week. It’s time for Congress to step in and kill the administration’s clean power plan — before the regulations kill family and business budgets across the country.

 - Nicolas Loris, the Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow at The Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Nicolas Loris Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Originally appeared in The Washington Times