Joe Andrade: Advanced energy and the governor's summit

By Joe Andrade

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 15 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, June 14 2014 3:30 p.m. MDT

In this Thursday, April 29, 2010 file photo, a pair of coal trains idle on the tracks near Dry Fork Station, a coal-fired power plant being built by the Basin Electric Power Cooperative near Gillette, Wyo.

Matthew Brown, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The first half of your recent editorial “Weighing costs against benefits, in Utah and around the nation, necessary for sound energy development,” (June 5) was promising — until this sentence:

“Utah’s abundant reserves of shale oil and coal can continue to provide an environmentally acceptable burning of fossil fuels that will remain necessary.”

That’s like telling our kids to “do the right” but then letting them “do the wrong.” The problem is that such fuels produce much larger amounts of CO2 than natural gas. They also produce air polluting particulates and toxic element emissions.

There is nothing “environmentally acceptable” about burning fossil fuels — and it does not “remain necessary” to burn them — especially coal.

I am constantly amazed by assumptions, which are never stated implicitly, yet become so ingrained that they are now considered ideologies.

Some examples from the pulpit of the Governor’s Energy Development Summit include:

Lt. Governor Cox and Energy Advisor Stewart spoke “clean coal” and “clean-burning coal.” There is no such thing. Burning coal produces heat and releases CO2. Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is heating the planet — that’s how global warming works. Even if you could successfully sequester the CO2 (which is really only feasible via feeding it to algae or plants), nearly the entire Periodic Table of the Elements is in coal and shale — and, upon combustion or other processing, is released into the air, water or ash — and that includes a variety of very toxic elements. Even good, efficient combustion and controls still release large quantities of toxic particulates. The particles and the toxic elements are key components of the air quality problem. Combusting (or liquefying or gasifying) coal can, therefore, never be clean.

The Energy Summit’s keynote speaker was Ted Nordhaus, an environmental policy expert and the chairman of The Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California. The Breakthrough Institute now advocates natural gas and nuclear power and argues against using coal. I watched Gov. Herbert’s somewhat strained face as his invited speaker spoke about climate change, CO2 and the death of coal — in a forum which has almost never had these words spoken from the major podium.

The recent editorial suggested cost-benefit analyses. Nordhaus basically expressed the new reality — the current cost-benefit analysis — already playing out in the energy markets. His institute’s recent report, “Coal Killer” (referring to natural gas) outlines that new reality.

The Governor should let coal go — unless he wants to be perceived as an 18th century holdover. Lt. Gov. Cox and Energy Advisor Cody Stewart need to do the same. Our new reality is becoming well understood, especially by those in the energy and resource markets. It’s not Obama or the EPA that’s killing coal, it’s natural gas and the new renewables.

The Deseret News should also “choose the right” and not continue to suggest “environmentally acceptable burning of fossil fuels.”

Joe Andrade is a retired professor of engineering, from University of Utah. He has worked as a scientist, engineer and educator. He attended the 2014 Governor's Energy Development Summit.

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