Why Cap And Trade Will Not Work

Posted on Tue 03/30/2010 by


So many times I have tried to explain this. Because it is a complex Engineering problem, and as seemingly easy as it might be to understand, it needs an explanation that simplifies a technical complexity, something difficult to comprehend, and also difficult to explain.

First there was the Waxman Markey Bill, and next came the Kerry Boxer Bill, and now Senators are working on another version of this Bill which at every turn, those proposing the Bill try to tell us that it will result in the decrease of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions, the largest of these being from those coal fired power plants. In Australia, a similar bill has gone before the Senate twice already and has been rejected by the Senate twice. The Bill in Australia is called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It’s a catchy name intended to make you think, well, how could you disagree with something that sounds so pure. Carbon pollution. Surely they mean Carbon Dioxide pollution, or is the Oxygen component left out deliberately, because Carbon is not Carbon Dioxide. The same has been done wherever something like this has been proposed. Carbon Cap and Trade. Carbon trading.

However, think of this. If as Al Gore tells us, we are facing a ‘Climate Catastrophe’, then surely those people who are in political power would be doing everything in their power to save us all from this catastrophe. That would entail the closure of those coal fired power plants. Politicians understand perfectly that doing something like that is tantamount to political suicide. Instead, all they propose is that they place a cost on that Carbon (Dioxide) instead, and then tell us that by doing this, it will in fact bring those emissions down. What they do not tell you however, is the scale of those emissions, and this covers two ends of the spectrum.   …  

Those emissions are monumentally huge, and at the very same time so monumentally tiny, and that of itself is something difficult to comprehend.

The current level of CO2 in the Atmosphere has recently ticked over to 389 Parts Per Million. That rise is incremental, and it has risen one point from the 388 PPM this time last year. Great store will be made of this increase, and how high that level is.

All the gases that make up the total Atmosphere are mixed in together, but the actual percentages are well worth looking at. Nitrogen makes up 76.55%. Oxygen makes up 20.54%. The inert gas Argon makes up 0.91%. That leaves 2% of the TOTAL Atmosphere, and this is the Greenhouse Gas component. Of that, Water Vapor makes up 1.95%. CO2 makes up 0.0389%, and the remaining 0.0111% is made up of trace gases.

Did you get that?

CO2 makes up 0.0389% of the whole Atmosphere.

So, if the Atmosphere was $10,000, then the CO2 component is $3.89, and in the last year we have added one cent. One cent in $10,000.

See just how monumentally minute that total is.

Okay, now look at this.

Each year just in the U.S. alone, the total CO2 emissions that come from the production of electrical power amount to 3.5 Billion tons, of which 2.7 Billion tons come from the coal fired power sector. In Australia, that total is 260 Million tons of CO2 from that coal fired sector, with more again from the Natural Gas fired plant sector.

On the whole Planet, the amount of CO2 emitted from all the coal fired power plants amounts to around 21 Billion tons of CO2. There are more from other power plants as well, and the emissions from the production of electrical power are around 30% of the total CO2 emissions from every man made source.

So the total CO2 emissions on the Planet each year are around 80 Billion tons, keep in mind that this is just from man made sources.

See how monumentally huge that number is.

That is just for one year.

So, that emission of 80 Billion tons in the last one year added one PPM to the total.

80 Billion tons equals that 0.0001% addition to the total CO2 content of the Atmosphere. See the contrast, and why that large number is accentuated, and also why CO2 is expressed in PPM ….. PARTS PER MILLION.

However, that figure of 80 Billion tons is obviously the figure that is concentrated on the most, because huge numbers like that carry the most weight, if you’ll pardon the pun.


I’ll show you this diagram again, and I understand I’ve posted it numerous times now, but it is one of the most important things in this whole debate. (Click on the image and it will open in a new and larger window so you can see it better, and then navigate back here to read the explanation.) This is the actual Load Curve for daily electrical power consumption. This image is the same as for any town, city, State or Country in the Western World where there is access to a constant and reliable source of electricity at the three levels where it used, Residential, (38%) Commerce, (37%), and Industrial. (24%)

The horizontal axis shows the time of day. The vertical axis needs no real title, as it directly indicates the percentage of all power being used at any one time. The thick line I have drawn across the diagram shows that area below the line where power is being consumed for the full 24 hours of every day, and the actual consumption just dips slightly under that total at around 3 to 4 in the morning, Summer and Winter. That line is at around 65%, indicating that of all electrical power consumption in those areas, then 65 to 70% of everything being generated is being consumed, even while you sleep. That level of power just has to be there all the time. This is the Base Load. That constant supply comes from coal fired power, nuclear power, and some hydro electric power. In the US, coal provides 44% of all power, and Nuclear 21%, so right there, that covers neatly the 65% of power required all the time. So, no matter what, these plants are always supplying the maximum power that they can produce, all the time. In Australia, 85% of all power comes from coal fired power, so while there are some smaller coal fired plants, those large ones in each State supply that Base Load requirement.

Throughout the day that level rises, as you can plainly see, and the level is around 80% for between 10 and 15 hours of each day. For those times, smaller plants, mainly Natural gas fired turbines run up and add to the amount of power available at the grids for consumption, and as the requirement drops off, then they shut back down. These types of plants are the best for this type of power, Peaking Power, as their design means that they actually can run up relatively quickly and then back down again, so these Peaking Power Plants might only be required for four to eight hours depending on the requirements.

So, then let’s look at a coal fired power plant. As I have mentioned in many earlier posts, crushed coal is fed into a critical furnace, which boils water to high pressure steam, which then drives a multi stage turbine, which in turn drives the generator. This turbine/generator complex on those large plants can weigh between 250 and 400 tons, and it needs to be driven at 3600 RPM, constantly.

To achieve this those large plants can burn on average 6.5 million tons of coal each year, or on average around 18,000 tons of coal each day.

3,600RPM. Think of that. It’s 60 times a second. Snap your finger ….. 60 rotations, snap, 60 more, all of that rotating 250 to 400 tons. In Australia, they rotate at 3,000RPM, or 50 times a second. They have to rotate at that speed. In the U.S. the AC power that they generate is supplied to the grid at 60HZ which is 60 cycles per second, or in Australia where power is supplied at 50Hz, (50 cycles per second) or 50 revolutions per second or 3000RPM for the speed of the generator.

The entity that owns the plant has to feed the coal in enough to keep that weight rotating at that speed all the time. So, at 18,000 tons a day, that’s a lot of coal, steaming coal, costing around $50 per ton. So, 6.5 million tons of coal per year amounts to around $325 Million each year just for the coal to run the plant. Bean counters at the plant want to run the plant at its most economic rate they can, so that 6.5 million tons a year is the minimum required to keep it turning over at the required rate.


The proposal of all the Bills in whatever form they come is that a cap be placed on the emission of CO2 from the plant, and each year that cap is lowered. A second idea is that CO2 should have a cost placed on it for every ton being emitted.

If the plant runs at its optimum, then that amount of coal used remains the same. If the cap is lowered each year, they don’t just use less coal. The plant either runs or stops. It has to use the same amount of coal no matter what.

Each ton of coal being burned produces 2.86 tons of CO2, so, you can now see that an average large plant will emit nearly 19 million tons of CO2 each and every year. If they lower the cap, then the plant will just have to pay the extra. It cannot use less coal, or the plant will just stop.

So, Carbon (Dioxide) Cap and Trade is not designed EVER to lower the emissions of CO2. It’s designed specifically to make money from it. Lowering the cap each year, or even imposing an outright cost on it has one result. It provides Governments proposing those Bills with a captive source of a huge income each year. Consider the U.S. electrical power sector alone. With the emissions of 3.5 Billion tons of CO2 each and every year, at the proposed $50 per ton, then that alone is an income of $175 Billion each year, just from the generation of electrical power. Those generating plant operators will not absorb that cost. They will pass it directly down to consumers at the three sectors of consumption, so you will pay that increase on your residential power bill, and then extra when Commerce and Industry pass those costs also down to consumers.

Again I ask the question. If Governments seek to save us from the ‘Climate Catastrophe’, then I dare you ….. close down the damn plants. Instead, all they seek to do is to make money from it, and as I have shown here, those coal fired plants will still consume the same amount of coal each and every year, emitting the same CO2 they always have. They either run as they are designed or just stop.

So, the next time you hear a politician explain that Carbon (Dioxide) Cap and Trade will lower emissions, then those politicians are either lying or have not bothered to even find out the facts. Either way, they are culpable.

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