Thank you all for coming here to give us your insight on the latest advances in clean coal technology. This is an important topic and we appreciate you all coming today to share your expertise.
Today’s hearing is the third we have held on coal this year and I think this is some indication of how important it is that we get the policy right with regard to this resource. Coal-fired generation supplies about half of the electricity we consume in the United States today and EIA predicts that share will remain roughly constant, or even increase, over the next 25 years.
Coal is likely to remain a prominent part of our energy supply because it is cheap and abundant. Importantly, this is also the case in India and China where their fast-growing economies are driving an unprecedented expansion in demand for energy. China, for example, has plans to build over 500 new coal-fired power plants in the coming years, and it is estimated that a new plant opens there every week to ten days. If this expansion is done using the sub-critical pulverized coal technology that is still dominant here and throughout the world, the implications for solving the global warming problem will be dire.
The U.S., largely through the good works of our national labs, has been a leader in the development of clean coal technology. Over the last few decades, technologies have been produced and policies implemented to significantly reduce emissions of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. The next challenge we face is to overcome the inherently high content of carbon in coal that today results in carbon dioxide emissions from coal generation roughly double the emissions produced from burning natural gas.
I believe we’ve reached some measure of consensus around this place that we have to address the global warming problem. Where we perhaps lack consensus is on the question of how best to address the problem and how fast. I expect we’ll have some good debate on those points and I hope we can come to some resolution soon, because I think it is imperative we get moving before the problem becomes unmanageably larger. But you all are here to help us answer the related questions of how we can go about reducing emissions and in what time frame.
This latter point of timing is important, not only because of the pace of construction in India and China that I mentioned, but because when we do arrive at an approach for regulating greenhouse gas emissions that puts a price on carbon dioxide the needed technologies must be ready to deploy. Given the long lead times of 5 to 10 years between design and operation that we have seen for these projects, one can imagine a scenario where it can be decades before these technologies will be considered “commercially viable” and ready for widespread deployment. The risk we face is that in the meantime significant investments will be made in inferior technologies and the hill we must climb will be that much higher.
I hope that, in addition to developing these advanced technologies, we can collectively come up with some creative ways to compress the time frame to commercial deployment. I’ll certainly be interested to hear all of your thoughts on what it will take to move these good ideas from the drawing board to large-scale implementation.
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