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February 28, 2007



We really have little choice. It's coal or... what? Conservation is good, but not a panacea. I suggest algae bioreactors instead of outright sequestration. The results are more or less the same, because the benefit is that a greater amount of oil that would otherwise come out of the ground is displaced and the CO2 in the coal used twice.

what are we to do to meet our power needs in the meantime?

Develop The Prairie National Park and wind farm. And offshore wind/wave power on floating platforms beyond the NIMBY zone.

A crash program like this, along with conservation, could replace proposed new coal plants.


Another part of the solution, install biogas digestors and solid oxide fuel cell/turbines instead of coal plants. The fuel cells will also run on natural gas at 3 times the efficiency of normal natural gas power plants.

These systems can be mass produced and installed very quickly. And they make a great backup for renewables.

Ronald Brak

Rather than ban new coal plants I would suggest that a carbon tax be applied to all new power plants and increases in capacity at existing plants. This way, if there are no better options available than coal in an area then coal could still be used. It would also encourage the building of highly efficient coal plants that produce more electricity per ton of carbon released and would encourage sequestion of carbon and the building of plants that can be adapted to sequester carbon. With even a modest carbon tax of $25 a ton, wind power would become very economical compared to coal. Nuclear and geothermal power would also become more attractive as sources of baseload power. Various energy storage and peak shaving technologies would also become more attractive.

So with a modest carbon tax on new capacity coal burning plants will be built if there are no better options, but in the short term wind power will be able to provide a considerable amount of new capacity in most areas and will give time to see which other low emission options are the best.


The free market should decide how many coal
fired plants are constructed. Remove ALL taxes
on the production and sale of desirable green
energy (solar,wind,wave,etc)FOREVER then
stand back and watch the sparks fly.

Greg Woulf

Coal is needed, I think, but I think we need some new regulation on emissions and I think we should give larger incentives for alternatives, even wholly subsidizing some full scale test plants for alternatives like Nuclear, wind, solar, wave, geothermal.

Ronald Brak

I agree with you, RammsteinRocks that low emission green energy sources shouldn't be taxed, but I don't think they are taxed in the United States. I do know that there are some subsidies available for them, especially in some areas such as California.


The fact is we have to do something radical and we have to do it soon. Banning coal would cause incredible dramatic changes in the way we live, but -being an optimist- I believe human ingenuity would probably win out in the end.

A more pragmatic solution would be to heavily tax all coal power to more realistically reflect the actual cost to the planet of using this power source. The money used would subsidize building a massive solar/wind/biomass infrastructure.

Then, yes, we could turn our attention to manufacturing plug-in flex fuel hybrids and eliminating the cow methane.

Brian Wang

British columbia is starting a ban on coal that is not non-carbon sequestering cleaner coal

I think the practical near term is that we have to first retrofit the older coal plants and shut down the smallest and dirtiest coal plants (make 10% of the power but make 50% of the particulate pollution). Install DOE developed devices that combine the best features of both a baghouse and an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) in the same compact enclosure. This device removes at least 99.99% of the solid particles in the flue gas of coal-fired power plants. This is better than the previously mandated 99%. Although that mandate did not get to some grandfathered older plants. All coal plants need to have that device installed. These measures would save 22000 lives per year in the USA and close to a million lives around the world (most in China and India). Invest more in wind, solar, renewables and nuclear. Allow nuclear to be up-powered (MIT work shows up 50% power increase possible with donut shaped fuel and nanoparticle modified water for higher and more efficient temperatures) and build more nuclear plants (along with the over 200 already being made globally. Combined the renewables and nuclear can start reducing coal power and possibly eliminate coal in 20-30 years. Nuclear is a big part of it because going from 443 nuclear plants up to 1300 is possible in 25 years. Up-powering 50% is possible in 10-15 years. Thus nuclear power can be increased 4.5 times in 25 years. Wind could get up to a global average of 10% maybe 15% and solar up to maybe 5% and more with some further breakthroughs.


I have great respect for James Hansen as an environmentalist, and I appreciate his willingness to speak out, but I think he should stay away from specific policies like this.

Banning specific technologies is not efficient. Either tax carbon emissions, or cap and trade, and let markets, which under the right conditions are very good mechanisms for distributing decision-making, figure out the details. For coal, maybe it's sequestration, maybe it's GreenFuel, maybe it's the bulldozer.

Similarly, I oppose banning the incandescent lightbulb, which some are trying to do in various places. Although 90-95% of the light of my house comes from CFLs, I think a ban of incandescents is just dumb, and incredibly unwise politically. If you want a way to generate backlash amongst the general public, that's the way to do it.

Penetration of CFLs has been slow, but is accelerating and can be augmented through other, less ham-handed means.



It seems the market has taken a step forward to a greener society. Well, if the TXU buyout goes through that is. TXU was suppose to open 11 new coal plants in their region. With the proposed buyout from KKR and PTG, 8 of those will never see the light of day. It would have been all 11 but the 3 that got away were already under construction. Things are getting better without the help of the gov't. I wonder what could happen if they did start helping the revolution???


Minor clarification: I have great respect for James Hansen as a climatologist. I think he's shaping up to be a run-of-the-mill environmentalist.


The reason Hansen is so urgent is because of the high probability of positive feedback on CO2 emission, ie run away climate change. If this occurs then the whole issue is taken out of our hands. From what I can tell Hansen is most worried about rising sea level which his calculations suggest could rapidly rise if temperatures go up another degree. In fact he has just published a paper in Science pointing out that sea levels are rising faster than models have predicted. He should be respected in his views of likely consequences to the planet. As to whether you agree with him on coal, it all depends on what discount rate or ethics you use to value the future vs present.


Any politicians who ban new coal plants will soon be replaced when the lights go out.


This is a critical issue because of the significant contribution of greenhouse gases from coal-fired generation.

I was surprised somewhat to see that EP has yet to weigh into the fray. He might say that we need to improve the efficiency of existing plants.

It would seem more practical to force power generation companies to de-commission their worst polluting plants. So, from that standpoint, of putting a ceiling on coal-fired generation, I would agree with the courageous climatologist.

On the other hand, it seems wrong to halt the replacement of old plants with better plants, especially where coal is an important source of energy.

You already know my objection to nuclear, so I will avoid the repetition. I do wonder what plans the Swedish national government has to get off oil without increasing nuclear, Jim?

Your intriguing challenge had me thinking along a somewhat different venue. Obviously, it is easier to focus on coal-generation, which is a concentrated use of energy, than on transportation, which is much more dispersed. Hansen's call for moratorium emphasizes for me the strength of the argument by Joe Romm and advocates at EPRI.

Yes, Big Eddie needs to clean its own house. That the focus can be concentrated is a decided advantage -- an important reason to get grid-able vehicles on the roads now rather than later.

Paul Dietz

We really have little choice. It's coal or... what?

Nuclear, for example.


I applaud Hansen for stepping up to the plate and showing courage. I have a lot of confidence in his judgment on science and policy. Certainly way more than my fellow blog commenters who are gravely and seriously warning him away. How do we posters somehow gain the wisdom to claim he is wrong (and shouldn't speak) and we are right? Could it be a bit of hypocrisy or over-confidence?

It's also possible that he is deliberately arguing an aggressive policy in order to shift grounds of the debate. I wish a hundred other scientists would follow him.


The short-term alternative to coal is natural gas. One might argue our gas supplies are too tight already, but several LNG facilities are being built right now and we could build more. The gas is available and though it would be more expensive than coal it would certainly be a better environmental choice.

Also shifting away from gasoline-powered vehicles and toward electric vehicles would free up petroleum that could be used in power plants. Not a great solution but again, better than coal for the short term if there's a moratorium on coal.

BTW, I watched Hansen's press conference on CSPAN. He struck me as a principled and honest scientist who has lost his patience with an administration that doesn't value honest science very highly.

Kenneth Dotson

As a practicing psychologist, I would like to know what effect this issue on biofule, alternitive energy, and global warmming is haviing psychologiclly on society as a whole and individually.


R&D on a scale that's in line with the scale of the problem seems like a reasonable starting point. If it's reasonable for gov't's to spend 1000,s of US$billions on national security, surely a few 10's of US$billions seems reasonable to spend to fast-track improvements to PV (which remains the tech solution with the greatest untapped potential IMO), concentrators, wind, along with better batteries, other storage systems and developing a Global Grid. A "Manhattan Project" for future energy sounds overdue - it's important enough that we really can't afford to fail , yet at this stage it seems there's a lack of will to really tackle this with more than hot air and unsustainable optimism. The hot air is superfluous at this point.
I remain unconvinced that nuclear is really capable of supplanting coal in a time frame that's any better than could be achieved with renewables with similar levels of investment - CIGS cells are just set to enter the market in a significant way, which will change the assumptions of how much Solar will cost, and other significant developments keep occurring. That says there's a lot of room still for PV to get better and cheaper and be massively mass produced.


I haven't weighed in because I've been spending my time responding over at TOD.

I'm honestly not sure that a ban on coal plants is the most efficient way to go.  But a de facto ban on un-sequesterable coal-steam plants would be the result of any stiff carbon tax.


As a practicing psychologist, I would like to know what effect this issue on biofule, alternitive energy, and global warmming is haviing psychologiclly on society as a whole and individually.

It's making them really bad spellers.


I'm fine with Hansen's urgency, and I'm fine with aggressive policy.

But that policy, if it is going to make any sense, should be market-based, not command-and-control.

I'm not a free-market ideologue. But I think that thoughtfully designed market-based mechanisms allow groups to make much better collective decisions than individuals, even really smart ones.

Hansen is smart, courageous, and bold. It does not necessarily follow that his policy recommendations are correct.

The good news is that we may not need a ban. I sincerely hope that the TXU deal is a first sign that the business community does not see new coal plants (in current form, at least) as politically viable.

Kit P.

Hansen should resign and go to work for greenpeace. Our elected leaders have developed a national policy and passed legislation to support it. Suggesting banning new coal plants is irresponsible. Furthermore, he does not seem to understand the scientific method. Nice theory Jim, but if you wanted make electricity; go back to college.

Chris Hauge

I think a good read can be found at www.thoriumpower.com.
The product is proven and has been running in a test reactor for years at the Kurchauv institute in Russia. Thorium Powers board of directors are amazing.
The thorium fuel rods that THPW can run in 60% of existing reactors with no chance of melt down. The rods can burn existing plutonium stock piles as well and extend reactors life times. The waste is that of equal to that of hospitals with no chance of using it for the building of nuclear weapons. Read and follow the links. Get ready to be amazed.

Chris Hauge

Some people seem to miss this link as well with all the techinical data:
Good reading and lots of it.



How much extra would it cost to "force" CO2 scrubbers on existing coal plants (if that can be done)? It seems that since we can send people on the moon 40 years ago, we can surely sequester at leats 80% of coal derived CO2. We already have awsome EV tech (search Altairnano, ZAP and Tesla motors). I believe that electric cars powered by "dirty" coal derived electricity is still cleaner than the cleanest of hybrids or natural gas. This is because the physics of the battery vehical allows for some impressive efficiency standards!
Please send me info if you think "any" electricity is indeed "cleaner" than hybrids, hydrogen, ect. (Hydrogen requires about 2.5 times the energy from production to consumption than electricity itself in any vehical).


coal-fired power plants r helpful & destructive @ the same time. they pollute & help us but that doesnt mean 2 start global warming!!!


Well one foolproof method to green up coal fired powerplants.

Switch them all over to biocharcoal.

Get 4.5x more electric energy out of the biomass than you would as a gasoline replacement.


One emerging solution is refined coal such as that being produced by Evergreen Energy in Wyoming. Testing indicates direct reductions of 8-12% (Kyoto is~7%) in CO2 output vs. unrefined feedstock and up to 25% total reduction when other transportation and plant operating efficiencies are factored in. The process also reduces SO2 by 35-40%, NOX by 15-20% and mercury by 70-75%. Add biomass, and there is a possibility that it may be carbon-neutral with natural gas.


By definition, if it uses fossil carbon, and doesn't use carbon sinks, then it's not carbon nuetral.

Furthermore, you wouldn't have to worry about the SO2 or Mercury to begin with if you used biomass.

And a direct carbon fuel cell. Like those being developed by SRI, Berkeley, and Stanford are 80% effecient (70% when you include the energy needed to carbonize the biomass)

Lastly bio-charcoal is a far superior fuel in raw performance compared to coal, due to it being a more regularized and stable compound.


It also makes a hell of a lot more economic and logistic sense than carbon sequestration.

Best way to sequester fossil carbon? Don't dig it up in the first place.


coal statistics would suggest the commodity isn't going anywhere. Coal reports show if we have to live with it, we may as well reduce the impact of coal and CCS seems to be the best solution found to date. Cherry www.coalportal.comWhile for some an ideal world would see no reliance on coal industry to produce electricity,

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