Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 46)

Posted on Tue 07/01/2008 by



So then, if all of this is good what could possibly hold it up from happening? I mean, everybody has come on side to make it work. We have all reached agreement on what needs to be done. We’ve actually worked out ways we can implement it. We’ve set a time line down on paper to follow. We’ve gone and done the hard work of getting people’s hearts and minds on side. We’ve somehow equalled out the strident agendas of those environmentalists, and got the people to see the real reasons why this needs to be done, and not just taking those loud opinions of the green minority who push unrealistic agendas upon us, so much so that we actually stopped listening because of that. We turned that around so that people can actually see the good reasons why we need to do this.

What could possibly stop it from happening? Not just to ease back on some of those points I mentioned above, but to actually stop it stone cold dead.
Look again at this pie chart for electric power generation in the US. It shows coal fired sources at just a tick under 50%.

Now, we worked out that the Kyoto Protocol calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to a level 5% below the 1990 levels. Since that time, (arguably) those levels within the US have risen by a factor of 28%, so that means the US needs to reduce those emissions by 33%, one third, and that’s across the board from all sources. If electrical power production is one of those sources, then that means a one third reduction in the coal sector of that power production. One third of that 50% coal segment amounts to a 15% cut in US power production. I have established this and discussed how I came to those figures and just what can be done to replace them, but let’s look closely at that coal segment of the pie chart.
We have called for a one third reduction in that coal sector, so here I will just deal with that coal sector one third.

Now I want you to look at a really boring chart with nothing on it but stacks and stacks of figures that could realistically become meaningless without interpretation. The chart is from that huge database provided by the Federal Government’s Energy Information Administration. I don’t care who you are or if you are in a hurry and can’t take the time to look at the boring old numbers. Go there right now and look at it.

US Government Energy Information Administration Official Energy Statistics Coal Consumption.

The heading for the chart says ‘Fig. 2.1.C. Coal: Consumption for Electricity Generation and Useful Thermal Output by Sector, 1994 through January 2008,’ and then on the next lines in brackets ‘(thousand tons)’
The heading Electricity Generation is self explanatory. Useful Thermal Output is that part of Combined Heating and Power (CHP) which uses coal. When CHP was introduced back in the 1880’s (yes, that’s right) coal was the only source of fuel to burn to turn water to steam to drive turbines to drive the generators, so coal is still being used as a fuel in that CHP sector, although it is rapidly being replaced by other fuels.

Back to the chart, you’ll see the heading across the top of the chart detailing coal usage for all the sectors where electricity is produced by the burning of coal.
However, the first column there, on the left, is the one I want you to look at, the one titled ‘Total (All Sectors)’
You’ll see there the breakdown of coal used for each year, but what I want you to do is to scroll right to the bottom of just that column and you’ll see there a number. Alongside that number is the heading 2008, and just two lines above that ‘Rolling 12 Months Ending in January.’

What that means is that is the amount of coal used in the 12 months from Jan 2007 to Jan 2008, and remembering from the very top that the number is in thousand tons, then that equates to 1,074,499 thousand tons, or just over one billion tons of coal. I will say it again slowly, one thousand and seventy four million tons of coal to produce electricity in the US for twelve months. MORE THAN ONE BILLION TONS OF COAL. That number, ‘Billion’ seems to be bandied around so much these days that it has lost some effect, especially when it comes to dollars. A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there, and the numbers roll off politicians tongues like, well, like it’s not really their money, eh! This however is a tangible thing. More than one billion tons. It’s hard I know to gauge what that might look like, so clear every building off the whole of Manhattan Island and just leave the Empire State Building standing there. That amount of coal would cover Manhattan Island completely, and all you would see would be the top ten floors or so and the spire of that Empire State Building. That’s what more than one billion tons of coal would look like.

Let it sink in, and I’ll bet right now that those of you that were too busy at the start to go look at the chart went and had a look right then.

Okay then roll back up and look at the pie chart again. I’m only dealing with the coal sector which requires a cutback in the burning of coal by one third to take us back to the emissions lower than 1990. If you scroll back to the top of the chart and take the average increase per year and work backwards you’ll see that the figure they call for is still close on 120 million tons lower than what was actually used in the US to produce electricity in 1990.

So, here’s where the sting in the tail starts.
A cutback of one third of that total is a reduction of around 360 million tons of coal. The current price for coal is around $120 per ton and keep in mind this is today’s prices and there is talk that coal might reach $150 as near as the end of this year, but I’ll only work on that lower figure of $120. That means that the coal mining sector would, by the very nature of the electric power generation sector cutting back, have a reduced income of close on $43 Billion.

Now the realisation of the sting in the tail might be sinking in.
Do you seriously think that one sector can take that much of a hit, remembering that it’s not just a one off, but for every subsequent year.
If less coal on a scale like that is needed, then coal companies would be cutting back on their workforces, and not just on a small scale, but on huge scales. Unemployment would rise, and considerably so. Smaller mining Companies would find that coal mining is not really economically viable, so they would just cease operations altogether.
No, there is no sector that can take a hit of that proportion. Politicians would be crawling all over this to protect the jobs of the constituents in their electorates.
You also have to keep in mind that State and Federal Governments receive royalties for the coal mined in their States, and that royalty level is around 10%, so the Government hit would also be substantial, in the vicinity of $4 Billion dollars, and even in these times when the word Billion does not mean as much as it once might have, a $4 Billion hit to governments can only lead one to think that other areas might be looked at to cover that large amount, and that would inevitably mean raises in levels of Government charges and taxes, a further burden in an area savaged by unemployment.
No, it’s all well and good to actually get the warm and fuzzy feeling that we have finally been won over to believing that this is a good thing.

Just you watch that coal mining sector kick and scream all the way to their lobbyists who will then kick and scream all the way to the Representatives for that State where coal mining is King. Then just watch as the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) option will be trucked out with every waking breath of that political representative. This CCS option is the only one not actually in use, because the theory might sound great, but the actual implementation is not only problematic, but will most likely, never be made to work as effectively as is being talked about right now, but consider who actually is talking about it. Politicians who know politics, not the Science behind this, and those coal Companies who have a vested interest, and that interest as I have shown you toady is not a small one but a considerably huge $43 Billion for each and every year, and that’s just in today’s figures.

No, you’re going to hear from now on just how Kyoto has inherently big problems for the US. You might think that just because Al Gore thought of it then it’s a Democrat/Republican thing and President Bush and those Republicans are not doing anything because of the impression that because Al Gore the Democrat thought of it, then they have to automatically oppose it.
No this has nothing to do with partisan politics at all, because if the Democrats get in, just you watch who starts kicking and screaming the loudest when they look in the direction of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

The next sting in the tail is even a larger bite than this one might be.