Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 37)

Posted on Fri 06/13/2008 by



Shutting down 15% of the total electrical power production in the US is something that just rolls off the tongue, but what is actually entailed in doing something like this? It’s the closing down of around 50 large baseload coal fired power plants.

Again, I have to stress the importance of baseload power, the underlying minimum that always has to be there. The rest is Peak power, when smaller units can be brought on line to build up to what is needed.
A baseload plant produces 2000MW of power constantly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for up to 50 years with only minor down time for scheduled maintenance, that time carefully worked out to be the absolute minimum, for short times, so smaller Peak Power plants can take up the slack.
Peak Power Plants are not like huge Baseload plants. They can be run up at short notice, work for a short time and then wind back down. They produce in the region of 50MW to 400MW, are gas turbines, wind plants, solar plants and others, specifically designed to work in short bursts, and cannot, and I’ll repeat that, cannot be run continuously in the same manner as huge baseload plants.
Effectively, they can’t be used to replace huge baseload plants.
What that means is that if you take out of commission a huge baseload plant, then you need to replace it with a baseload plant.
So then, let’s look at that.

If 50 large baseload coal fired power plants are to be decommissioned, can they be replaced?
Conjecture is that we need to do this by the year 2020.
Since 1990, and read that again, 1990, the average total power produced by electrical power plants using the burning of coal to come on line has been averaged at around 900MW per year, or one large 2000MW coal fired power plant every second year. Compare that to China, currently bringing online one of these every week. More coal fired plants were proposed for the US during that time, but they just did not eventuate for one reason or another.

Current forward estimates recommend the introduction of 135,000MW of power (for every production method, not just coal) to come online in the US by 2016, just to keep up with demand. That’s over and above what is already on line now. What actually is planned is for 7,000MW in that time, way below that projection. That does not take into account that up to 50 coal fired plants need to be taken out. As I mentioned previously, a lot of those alternative plants planned for construction are commercially confidential, so that total power number will be higher, but still nowhere even close to the recommendation.

Let’s hypothetically replace those baseload plants then.

Hydro Electric Power Plants. In the US, there are currently no large hydro plants planned between now and 2016. Consider that it would take between 5 and 10 years to bring a large hydro plant on line. Not one is in the future. They are just not viable as an alternative, because Governments will not take the risk of the possible militant reaction from environmentalists who demand that rivers run free, and that hydro plants are harmful to the migratory fish, even though I explained earlier in the hydro posts that this is virtually a win win situation for everybody, because once constructed, they produce baseload power, produce zero greenhouse gases, and are beneficial to the surrounding area as a water supply, flood mitigation, irrigation purposes, and as a possible tourist attractor. Unlike coal, where the fuel is consumed, the water only supplies the driving means for the turbine, and can then be further used in those above areas, or in the case of pumped storage, recycled back above the dam and used continuously to drive the turbine.

Nuclear Power Plants. In the US there are currently no nuclear power plants planned for as far into the future as you can see. Consider it will take 7 years to have one of these online, construction would need to be starting now, not just putting one on a wish list to think about. Again these are just too politically risky. I mentioned in the Nuclear power plant posts that these are not as bad as the perception is. In France, where the Nuclear process produces 80% of the electrical power, in a Country with the cleanest air quality of any industrialised nation on Earth, the population are overwhelmingly in favour of the nuclear process. No, scaremongering environmentalists will have you believe it is unacceptable. In this case however, it is of no consequence whatsoever, as none are being planned at all.

There you have it. You can only replace baseload plants with baseload plants. None are planned, and 50 are called to be removed from a supply chain already creaking under the strain.

So, then what WILL happen?
Absolutely nothing. Coal plants will stay online. You know why?
This is another of those math areas I was worried about. However, the figures I have quoted all along are actually borne out by that boring old website, the US Govt’s EIA. I know that figures sometimes get caught up with each other so what you need to remember here is that even though the 15% is of the total US power, that equates to 30% of the coal segment which is half the total, so you’ll just have to believe me with the math component.

If 50 large baseload coal fired power plants are to be decommissioned, then look at this.
Each of those large 2000MW plants uses around 10,000 tons of coal per day, and most of them, actually more. I will conservatively call that 4 million tons of coal per annum burnt by each plant.
Multiply that by those 50 plants to be taken out of commission, and you’re looking at 200 million tons of coal removed from the process. You think that’s a lot of coal, but the EIA itself quotes the coal usage for all coal fired plants in the US for 2006, the last reporting year at 1.1 Billion tons of coal, increasing marginally each year, so the figure I came to is only around 20%, showing that I have only taken into account the large baseload plants and not all coal, so 30% for all coal plants is around 300 million tons of coal per year. The reference for this figure is at this link. See the first column. and the top part of that. Roll down to the number alongside 2006. It is 1,035,346 and then look back to the heading for that column, Coal in thousands of tons, so that’s around 1.1 billion tons of coal just for 2006.

I want you to think about that for a minute. Remove 300 million tons of coal from the process. How do you think those coal mining companies will accept that? Coal for power currently fetches in the vicinity of $125 per ton, and at current rates of inflation only, (and not taking into account the current fuel shock affecting the price of coal) would see coal at around $250 per ton, and some say it could actually be that price in less than 2 years.
So, just how much of a loss will this be to those coal mining Companies?
300 million tons at $250 makes 75 billion dollars. That’s 75 billion dollars. Not a one off thing, but for each and every year after those coal fired plants are taken out.
Those companies will go ballistic at the merest mention of that. But that’s not the end of it. Where those mines are, then those States receive royalties from those coal miners, of around 10%, so each of those States will also take a hit. A total of 7.5 billion dollars each year. That amount pays for State infrastructure, roads, hospitals, government business. The hit for the governments will mean cutbacks on a large scale. The hit for the mining companies will inevitably mean jobs lost. No government in its right mind could afford a hit like that. It would mean political suicide.

Then think of this. I mentioned in the last post that the US produced one quarter of the electrical power on the Planet. Using the figures from that and confirmed in other areas as well as in the EIA, the math is as follows.
US. Coal segment of 48% of the total power is around 520,000MW and consumes around 1.1 billion tons of coal.
The rest of Planet Earth, their coal segment is 72% of their total, around 2,400,000MW.
Coal consumption for power is approximately the same everywhere, so at that rate, the rest of the Earth uses around 4.7 Billion tons of coal. A 30% cut to that works out at 1.4 billion tons of coal and at the estimated $250 per ton that amounts to 350 billion dollars. You just cannot take that amount of money out of one segment of the mining industry. The job losses would be monumental. The royalties flowing to Governments would also dry up. The whole thing would be political suicide.
That’s why you’ll hear so much from politicians about Carbon Capture and Storage. (CCS) They will say it with a straight face and with the confidence in their voices that will almost make you believe it can be done.
Consider this.
You can point to hundreds of solar powered plants currently on line providing power.
You can point to hundreds of wind powered plants currently on line providing power.
You cannot point to one CCS plant anywhere on the Planet currently in operation. They are still 20 years away at the absolute best, that’s providing all the theory can actually be proved and then put into practice.
That’s why politicians will talk up CCS. Because of the huge amount of money that will be lost, and keep in mind those numbers are not a one off thing, that’s each and every year.

This isn’t a warm and fuzzy thing that we can do because it is the right thing to do.
This will be people’s everyday lives that will be adversely affected.

And that is why it won’t happen.