Several associates and energy industry information sources pointed me to the below video clip from The Colbert Report. They thought it provided a good example of a more open electrical power business since it shows an industry chief executive with the courage to visit a popular talk show knowing he might get skewered by a sharp witted host.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
I am going to risk the wrath of the powerful in the electrical power business by saying “phooey”.
There is no such thing as “clean coal” unless you are a lawyer who believes that words only have temporal meaning. It is disingenuous for Rogers or any other energy leader to indicate that we know how to capture CO2 from coal burning power plants, but we just need to “commercialize” the process.
No human being has a workable concept of how to affordably separate CO2 from all of the other gases that leave the stack of a conventional coal plant, compress that gas, inject it underground, and have some assurance that it will remain there without causing unintended consequences. The notion that we will be retrofitting existing coal plants with technology that will perform this enormously challenging and large scale process reliably and affordably within “ten to fifteen” years is a complete fantasy. There is no technical road map available; therefore there is NO WAY to predict the length of time that it will take or put any kind of numbers on its cost.
Rather than spending nearly six minutes in an admittedly humorous discussion on a topic with a very serious underlying tone, Rogers could have pointed out that his company was investing heavily in large scale reliable power generating stations that do not emit any gases. He could have told Colbert that he could easily stick his head into the “stack” of at least some of Duke’s current plants and take a deep breath with no ill effects. He would just have to choose the ones that do not burn coal but instead fission uranium.
When Colbert asked, “what’s next treadmills with chickens? What is next after coal?” Rogers had a perfect opportunity. He could have said, “no, no chickens on treadmills but zero emission nuclear plants”. Instead he continued to defend “clean coal” efforts as an aspirational goal that the country needs to undertake. He described his assignment as Duke CEO with a series of questions like “can we make the transition from our dependency on coal. Can we really clean it up? Can we really take the CO2 out?. . .”
When Colbert asked him to explain carbon sequestration in words suitable for a six year old, Rogers revealed the big difference between the way he views the world and the way I do – he said, “well, I’m a lawyer so I might be able to do that.” I am most definitely NOT a lawyer; I would find it difficult or impossible to debate on the side of an argument that is simply wrong or make a case to defend a client that I think is guilty. I would never try to claim that we are putting carbon dioxide underground hoping that the molecules would “glom onto each other and not leak out”.
Rogers finally mentioned nuclear, the only viable solution that can scale to the challenge of clean, affordable, reliable electrical power in the final 30 seconds of the clip, in the same breath as wind and solar.
On a more positive note – Jim Rogers did a better job of describing a far more realistic transition to a low carbon world today, just two days after his Colbert Nation appearance, when he announced that Duke Energy is playing a key role in the newly announced Southern Ohio Clean Energy Park Alliance, along with Areva, Unistar Nuclear, USEC, and the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI).
“We face the indisputable fact that our nation and our world are transitioning to a low-carbon future,” said Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy. “Today, with the creation of this clean energy park demonstration project – the partners in this alliance, the state of Ohio and our country, are edging a little further across the bridge to that future,” Rogers added.
Source: Unistar Nuclear’s June 18, 2009 press release announcing the partnership.
The four companies and the regional development organization have formed the alliance to build at least one 1600 MWe Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) on part of the 3600 acre site near Piketon, OH that was the home of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Enrichment Plant from 1954-2001. It is also the home of USEC’s current American Centrifuge Plant, which the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed in April 2007. Construction on that project began in May 2007, but there is apparently plenty of room on the site for another large energy project.
Duke will be the project manager and licensee, Unistar will take charge of the licensing activities as one of the subsequent combined construction and operating licenses (SCOL) for the US EPR™, USEC will provide the site and the environmental assessments, and Areva will be the reactor vendor. The US Department of Energy (DOE) may provide some of the initial funds as part of a program to clean up and redevelop facilities that were part of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.
Judging from the local press articles and the numb
er of Ohio politicians quoted in press releases, this project is welcome in an economically challenged area with a long history of involvement in industrial scale nuclear technology projects.
Update: (Added at 0300 on June 19, 2009) The New York Times Green Inc. blog provided a quote from a telephone interview with Jim Rogers, the Duke Energy CEO, that makes a tight tie between the new plant and the need to replace (or transition away from) old coal fired power plants.
But Mr. Rogers, in a telephone interview, said, “I’m confident I can fund it. Most of our fleet in Ohio, which is coal-fired, will be retired over the next 15 to 20 years, and we’re going to need to replace it, and this plant (the one announced for Piketon) will be a good candidate to replace that capacity,” he said.
That is a great response – wish he had used something similar on the far more popular and likely to be heard, seen and repeated Colbert Report.