A recent article in the New York Times discussed the plans of electric power generators to build either integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants or more conventional pulverized coal power plants. The issue centers around the ability of IGCC power plants to be easily converted to capture the carbon dioxide for sequestration vs the lower cost to build the more conventional plants.
A relatively small group headed by American Electric Power, the nation's largest electric utility, are planning to build IGCC power plants, while most of the industry including Peabody energy, the largest private coal producer who are not comfortable with the technology or the costs of IGCC. The IGCC plants costs 15 to 20% more to build but would be far less expensive to retrofit for carbon capture if limits are placed on global warming emissions. About a dozen of the 140 planned coal-fired power plants in the U.S. expect to use the newer technology.
Both technologies can reduce criteria emissions to below standards, the question is whether and, if so, when will controls be placed on global warming gases.
Peabody and other companies remain skeptical that carbon-capture methods, whether for pulverized coal or combined cycle plants, will become commercially or technologically feasible until the next decade.
But it is Peabody's economic argument, not environmental opposition, that is resonating throughout the electricity industry and among energy regulators. In one key decision on the state level, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission rejected a proposal from WE Energies of Milwaukee in 2003 to build a plant with the new technology, saying it was too expensive and would result in higher electricity prices.
Proponents of IGCC plants say they would also emit much lower amounts of other pollutants that contribute to acid rain, smog and respiratory illness.
Selling the carbon dioxide from IGCC plants could make them more competitive with pulverized coal plants. The Dakota Gasification Plant, though different from an electric power plant, already sends its carbon dioxide to Saskatchewan, where it is injected in aging oilfields to enhance oil recovery. British Petroleum (BP) announced a similar project in March for a refinery it is building near Los Angeles, using petroleum coke as a fuel there instead of coal. It is also applying this technology to two plants it is building in the U.K.
Resource: 2 Industry Leaders Bet on Coal but Split on Cleaner Approach.pdf, New York Times, May 25, 2006