mississippi coal plantBy Peter Galuszka

It sounds almost too good to be true and it apparently is.

A few years ago, trying to keep burning coal while dealing with carbon dioxide pollution, the Southern Co. announced plans for a $1.8 billion coal-fired generating plant in eastern Mississippi that would do the near impossible.

Some 65 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide would be captured, put through a 62-mile-long pipeline and used underground to boost oil production from reserves near the Gulf Coast that were thought to be worn out.

But the price tag has risen to $5.2 billion and the plant won’t be ready for another year. Its cost means that “clean” coal will be $6,800 per kilowatt hour compared to $5,500 from nuclear stations and about $1,000 per kilowatt hour from natural gas plants.

The Kemper County plant only underlines the predicament of burning coal. It is still the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to climate change. Efforts to strip it from air pollution emissions are proving too expensive to be practical.

It’s too bad because the Obama Administration had been promoting the Kemper plant as one way that coal might have a healthy future. The administration is striking out for good media coverage since it is due to announce new proposed rules to stem carbon dioxide pollution at existing coal-fired plants on June 2. They are being strongly resisted by coal operators, some utilities and conservative groups.

Yet it’s not the first similar plant to be swallowed up in cost. Ohio-based American Electric Power built a pilot plant in West Virginia – half funded by the U.S. Department of Energy – that would capture and bury carbon dioxide. But, it, too, went down the tubes because it was too expensive.

A few years ago, there was some enthusiasm that China, one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, air polluters, would use its tremendous cache of cash from exports to build state-of-the-art coal plants. A Duke Energy official did the math and found that the Chinese might be able to capture CO2 at $16 a ton. But then Duke found that if they took the plant out of China, the expense increased four times. Why? The Chinese figures involved ultra-cheap Chinese labor and capital.

Perhaps someday cheaper technologies will make abundant coal useable without so much pollution. At the moment, it does not might sense, pricewise, regardless of whether there is a “War on Coal.”

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


23 responses to “Coal: The High Cost of Carbon Capture”

  1. larryg Avatar

    It IS too good to be true and the folks promoting it – know it.

    Will we ever find a way to capture exhaust gases and recycle back through the combustion process?

    I think so – but we need to be serious about the necessity of doing in instead of playing stupid “denial” games.

    A couple of posts back – Bacon was bragging on cleaner air but he would not admit how it got cleaner which really explains in a nutshell the current opponents of carbon pollution.

    I remember (and so do others) – a few years back when the right was bitching and complaining about pollution standards for cars.. how it required “expensive” catalytic converters and how car engines were being “ruined” by requirements to improve the way cars burned fuel…

    now.. the same complainers “brag” about how clean cars have gotten – in the same breath that they argue that the “jack-booted” EPA needs to be eviscerated for it’s unwarranted “job killing” regulations…

    Oh how I wish the phrase “what goes around, comes around” with regard to the “deniers”.

  2. Breckinridge Avatar

    Ok, I’m calling that bluff — looking for complaints from “The Right” on pollution standards for cars. Where? Not in California. Again, the EPA was founded by Nixon. I commend the cleaner air. Thank you, catalytic converter and better fuel mixes. I can find plenty of debate over CAFE standards, but nobody is missing the dirty air. You are pulling a classic straw man, Larry — its bogus. You can find a few outliers if you want, but you can’t paint the GOP as a whole with them. (Unless I get to paint all of you with Obama’s Weather Underground pals.)

    Now, today there are many complaints about the pressure on coal. I buy the arguments that the net job impact is not as negative as some claim, but the job impact in the coal region and coal industry is of course severe. The reality is that Dominion coal plant out in Wise County is the last of its breed, a dinosaur, and we all know it. (And everybody with a brain knew/knows carbon capture is a snipe hunt of the first order, and some people are laughing all the way to the bank with pockets of money from enviro-suckers.)

    1. Breckinridge Avatar

      And I’m going to add the proviso that objecting to EPA proposals, pushing back to make the regulations more reasonable and easier to apply is not the same as advocating for continued pollution. The earliest regulations made the greatest sense, had the most impact, but I’m sure in almost every case the initial drafts were amended in response to feedback — much of it a genuine effort to achieve the result in a less onerous manner. I’ve worked on written comments to EPA rules and pointed out that their draft had unintended consequences or was unduly costly. That doesn’t make me an advocate for dirty air. (But again, you were accusing “The Right” of fighting auto emissions standards and the concerns I recall were being raised by “The Industry” perhaps but not the politicians — except those in Michigan maybe.)

      1. larryg Avatar

        re: ” is not the same as advocating for continued pollution.”

        in the timeline – that’s been the argument de jure…

        we can go back and talk about, for instance, how nitrogen and phosphorous are _not_ pollutants and it’s wrong to regulate them.

        PCBs, dixoin, etc, all of them were argued that in “proper” dilution, they were fine and did not harm.

        Breckinridge – I have to ask you – do you have a good remembrance of these issues?

        right now – mercury rains down on our landscape from coal plants.

        it does not bio-degrade – it accumulates.. are you okay with that?

        what would you do about it?

      2. larryg Avatar

        re: ” But again, you were accusing “The Right” of fighting auto emissions standards and the concerns I recall were being raised by “The Industry” perhaps but not the politicians — except those in Michigan maybe.)”

        have you compared what the “right” is saying now days with regard to pollution and regulation with what the “industry” was saying previously?

        can you show me a difference between them in their advocacies?

        the argument was and is that pollution is overstated and regulating it kills jobs.. what’s the difference between the two?

      3. larryg Avatar

        re: ” And I’m going to add the proviso that objecting to EPA proposals, pushing back to make the regulations more reasonable and easier to apply is not the same as advocating for continued pollution.”

        Okay. I’m going to take you at your word but I’m going to ask you about Mercury. What do you advocate? status quo?

        do you think Mercury pollution is a problem ?

        do you support tougher regulations for mercury pollution?

    2. larryg Avatar

      re: car pollution – I can provide a pretty good history of the complaints if you wish ..

      there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth… wanna get on the way-back machine and see?

      the “snipe hunt” reminds me of the cigarette wars and the campaigns conducted by the Cigarette companies to tell the public that those nasty scientists who claimed it harmed were lying SOBS.. out to scare the public.

      then we had the acid rain kerfuffle – where the anti-regulating folks again complained that there was no such thing as acid rain and that scientists were again trying to spook people into regulations..

      then we had the folks who said the Ozone Holes and CFC issue was a bogus issue – again cooked up by lying scientists…

      it’s a continuing issue..

      are you aware of non-attainment zones? do you recall the opposition to them?

      how about the Kepone in the James and Appomattox.. yet another enviro-weenie bogus issue?

  3. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    Oh lord really? Gonna deny this?

    “The EPA is now the ‘Employment Prevention Agency.’” — Bob McDonnell

    “We’re certainly not, and I don’t think congress should be, in the business of mandating consumer choice. If you do the math on it, the consumer will never pay for it. We obviously don’t think the CAFE standards are very well thought out.

    -GM CEO and President Richard Wagoner, meeting with Washington Times editors and reporters.” (Washington Times is a GOP political publication in case you didnt know)

    “Listen, these are the same people who will be standing in unemployment lines if the Clinton-Gore proposals are put into effect.

    -John T. Truscott, Press Secretary to Republican Governor John Engler, The New York Times. (on the subject of CAFE standards)

    “The whole CAFE scheme is, in terms of public policy, ridiculous, and has the practical effects of driving U.S. jobs abroad.

    -Former transportation Secretary Jim Burnley, The New York Times. April, 1989.”

    How about read this http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/us/politics/epa-is-perrys-favorite-target.html?_r=0 About one of the presidential candidates and still popular Governor (based on fox atleast) Rick Perry

    How about this 2011 vote by house republicans

    It was a major theme of the last presidential primary

    I mean… you need to stop playing this… no they didn’t say that game. Even if the quotes are gone due to replaced info on line, doesn’t mean the policy positions and votes ever will be. They voted against the very stuff you say they didn’t oppose. Then why did they vote against it? Jobs killing blah blah, same non sense they are using about the minimum wage and government in general.

    Last I checked despot anarchist free for all countries have terrible track records on job creation.

    The new policy they are putting forth is even more disingenuous, in a have your cake and eat it too way. They want to not actually repeal any regulations (and say look we are fine with these pollution controls) but at the same time destroy the regulatory agency that has the responsibility to enforce it (so that more companies can do illegal things). If they aren’t trying to kill the EPA all together, they have voted several times to gut its budget to a non-enforcement status.

    Then when something happens like volatiles in water sources, they turn around and say, see how the government fails us?

    1. larryg Avatar

      unleaded gas?

      remember the hullabaloo over that?

  4. TBill Avatar

    Peter- maybe we should say “high cost of clean coal” rather than high cost of carbon capture. End-of-pipe treatment is not a long term fix. The only true route to clean coal is to go to a fundamentally cleaner technology, which this plant apparently (applause!) is: gasification vs. the old standby, combustion. My understanding is that carbon capture is much less costly on a gasification plant. I tend to support gasification-style clean coal and I’d like to see consideration of a project like that in VA. The high construction cost on this Mississippi project seems to be partially due to the long CO2 supply pipeline they decided to build.

    Here’s the problem as I see it: we have a few cheaper, cleaner options — nat gas, on-shore wind, some solar, hydro in some places — and then we have some very expensive options like clean coal, off-shore wind, and nuclear. Somehow each state needs to decide which, and how much of the more expensive options to pursue.

  5. larryg Avatar

    I compare what is going on today with what went on with the Ozone holes.

    was there a difference in the WAY we reacted to the threat of the Ozone Holes and the economically-damaging steps taken in response – and now?

    as I recall we did not have “skeptics” or “deniers” back then.

    we had a few whackos.. but they were ignored and almost no one said that there was a conspiracy of lying scientists trying to bankrupt the world on a problem that did not exist.

    there was no irrefutable proof about those holes – just a “consensus” that they were real and getting larger and really bad stuff was going to happen if we did not do something.

    compare that to now.

    what changed?

    I’m sort of waiting for the modern-day skeptics to say that we were “snookered” by the scientists back then – but no more.. we know their game now .. and we aint going to be fooled no mo.

  6. Peter, I will accept your definition of carbon dioxide as “pollution” only if you concede that you, Peter Galuszka, are a polluter yourself. You breathe, therefore, you emit CO2. To be consistent with your political principles, you need to institute a little carbon capture of your own. Perhaps you could try capturing the CO2 by means of a plastic bag around your head, and see what happens! Hah! Hah!

    1. larryg Avatar

      does that mean that CFCs are not pollution either?

      if too much of a substance not usually considered a “pollutant’.. if too much of it can cause environmental devastation like ozone holes… does it really matter if it is a “pollutant” in the traditional sense?

      DO you think too much of a normally-not-toxic substance can be harmful in large quantities?

      still trying to find all the ozone skeptics… where are they?

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      Well Jimbo – we all know from Ken Clowninelli that water can’t be a pollutant. But can it be a poison? Perhaps you could try to re-enact the “hold your wee for a Wii” contest. It seems that some half-witted radio station held just such a contest. A woman drank six liters of water in three hours, went home, vomited and died of water intoxication.

      It seems that water, like carbon dioxide, can be very harmful in excessive quantities.


  7. DJRippert Avatar

    I am not so sure that anti-environmentalism is purely Democratic vs Republican.

    A case in point is the EPA mandated Chesapeake Bay clean-up. The EPA has mandated runoff controls for areas within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

    50 years ago people went crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay by wading into the water up to chest high and looking at the bottom to see the crabs. The crabbers would then use a metal – mesh net to scoop up the crabs. That approach doesn’t work anymore because visibility in the bay has been reduced to about 18″. There has been that much damage in that short a time.

    Run-off from areas within the bay’s watershed is, by far, the biggest contributor to the over-enrichment of the bay which clouds the water which, in turn, kills the underwater bay grasses which oxygenate the bay and hold down sediment. It’s a viscous cycle of filth and decay.

    The EPA has designed an approach to clean up the bay that has been agreed-to by the “bay states”. However, a coalition of 21 state attorneys general (operating from within the pockets of the Farm Bureau) have signed an amicus brief in a lawsuit against the EPA plan. These asshats come from states as far away as Alaska! It seems the Farm Bureau, Fertilizer Institute, etc are afraid that after the EPA forces their members to clean up the pig sty they have made of the Chesapeake Bay they will further demand that all the other pig sties around the country created by agricultural run-off be cleaned up as well. Oh, the humanity! Of course, urban and suburban homeowners in the watershed are going to be forced to address their messes too. However, they are not busy shoving money into the pockets of America’s corrupt politicians to oppose the EPA so they have no clout in the matter (if they even opposed the clean-up which I doubt).

    Are all the attorneys general Republicans? Nope. A number of Democrats are in the mix feeding from the same Farm Bureau trough as their disgusting Republican colleagues.

    Republicans are all about accountability until some of their financial benefactors are held accountable for cleaning up the messes they made. Cue the tiresome whine of “big government”.

    Democrats are vitally concerned about global climate change and environmentalism until, of course, it conflicts with BigAg stuffing money into their pockets. Then, they join the chorus of sniveling little girls refusing to demand that those who defile the environment stop their defilement.

    Yet, there are “good guys” in this debate as well. Despite agriculture being Virginia’s biggest industry Mark Herring has signed up Virginia as an amicus supporter of the EPA and the bay cleanup. So have Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. In fact, the only state (partially) within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to sign on with BigAg is West Virginia – an environmental nightmare of a state with a Republican Attorney General.


    1. larryg Avatar

      farmers and business folks – Dem or GOP don’t like their costs increased especially from something that is not performance based.

      How do we know – what the EPA/Chesapeake Bay regulations will ‘work’?

      what assurance do we have that doing the things that are required – are proven things?

      so I tweak Bacon and others on two issues:

      1. – if you think the EPA is a jack-booted thug of an agency – do you believe it’s regulations for clean air and water are not responsible for cleaner air and water?

      I’m unclear how Bacon can brag on clean air and water but refuse to give the EPA credit.

      2. – With the Ozone holes, the Chesapeake Bay cleanup – and steps to address global warming – none of them have guaranteed-proven approaches that guarantee that money spent is going to produce results.

      I consider that to be one of the weaknesses of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup that has the Farm Bureau up in arms over demands that farmers do expensive things when they have never, as far as I know – sample water upstream of a farm and sample it downstream and demonstrate there is pollution added – and then go back after the “fixes” have been implemented and test again – and show it works.

      that’s essentially what the Farm Bureau wants – some scientific proof that expensive changes are going to be worthwhile.

      I do not think some of us are going to be happy until we have a network of monitoring stations reporting data on a regular basis and we can start to see correlations between changes made – and improved river conditions.

      We DID do that with Ozone holes.. we proved we could reduce them… with the changes that were implemented.

      we could take a similar approach with carbon pollution.. but as with the ozone holes – could you predict with some accuracy the specific harm that would result from ever bigger ozone holes. We had warnings.. we had estimates of skin cancer, cataracts, etc.. but they were estimates.. just like seal level changes, more severe storms and weather due to global warming – are “estimates” not guaranteed proof.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        You believe that man made global warming is a crisis of dire magnitude (even though the temperatures haven’t risen in something like 17 years) but you don’t believe that fertilizer and animal dung from high density farming operations run off into the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

        Bwaaa ha ha ha ha ha ha!

        1. larryg Avatar

          It’s IGNORANT to confuse temperature variability with long term trend:


          but in both cases – what to do about it, what the cost is and will it produce results is not something you have any guarantee of – just as with the ozone holes – you did not know on the front end – that the recommended solution would work or how long it would take to see changes.

          but to be unable to understand the difference between temperature variations over time verses overall trend data that spans the variable temperature periods is – dumb.

          it’s like denying the Chesapeake Bay has a problem or to dispute the clarity of it because some parts are more clear than others.

          it boils down to whether or not you WANT to accept data or not just because you disagree with regulation.

          If we used your “approach” to the ozone holes – you’d be denying that there was ever anything but holes – the whole time… that’s the holes were there all along…

    2. larryg Avatar

      As I had said yesterday. after you get past the first cut about increased costs and regulation which usually separate most GOP from Dems – then you get to whether or not there is confidence that the increased regulatory costs are going to go for something that WILL WORK – as opposed to money thrown at the problem with no real performance measures to assure the money spent is resulting in the intended result – and worse no concerns that you should want to know – and to be prepared to go back and make changes if the approach is not effective – not cost-effective. (ala Louis Ginter).

      At that point, the folks that are real fiscal conservatives object because it’s an unrealistic plan without insuring there is a way to assure that the money being spent is working as intended.

      but the anti-regulation types -usually folks who are Conservative – don’t want the regulation no matter what – because they fundamentally believe that cleaning up pollution is not necessarily a benefit anyhow and that even if it is – you don’t do it by regulating companies..

      so the two most reactive and groups who do not care if the money works or not are the way left green weenies who don’t care how much it costs if it’s purpose is the clean up the environment and typically what used to be those to the right of RINOs – who basically are opposed to regulation as an illegitimate and job killing aspect of government – virtually all of the time.

      Breckinridge says that just because he’s opposed to regulation does not mean he’s in favor of pollution – that’s true – but how many who oppose regulation – put forth their own alternative regulation ?

      usually you don’t see them say – “we should be regulation this way” instead.

      most of the time – they are engaged in a full bore campaign to kill the current proposal – with no support for something else other than the status quo.

      I’ve pointed out if you go back in history – for cigarettes and unleaded gasoline and follow how the struggle took place. Few if any of the opponents were pursuing some kind of regulation – different – they were opposed to regulation – period.

      and for me – that does not seem to have changed.. except now days those same folks say “we have ENOUGH regulation already”.

      so take the Farm Bureau – what are they proposing instead?

      are they advocating for performance-based monitoring or are they arguing for the status-quo?

      are the folks opposed to regulating carbon dioxide – opposed to it period or are they proposing alternatives ?

      the folks that engage in activities that produce acid – in the rain and in the rivers from mines – what was their middle ground alternative?

      and it’s not just business. take a look at the new stormwater regs where – if we do what Louis Ginter did – it would be billions perhaps a trillion dollars to do what they did – but again – I ask two basic questions:

      1. – if you are opposed – what is your alternative ?

      2.- do you support performance-based approaches that measure improvement?

      do you want to know if the regulation is actually delivering what it has promised to do? hard core conservatives never get to this point – they are opposed to the CONCEPT of regulation as harmful with only the degree in doubt … to business – no matter what – only the amount of harm is in doubt and if they have to compromise they are not interested in results – only minimizing the “harm” to business.

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    What are you talking about? Of course carbon dioxide can be a pollutant. Are you denying this, too?

  9. Yeah, CO2 is such a terrible pollutant that greenhouse owners pump it into their greenhouses to boost the production of their vegetables. It’s such a terrible pollutant that plants increase their resistance to drought. It’s such a terrible pollutant that the planet is actually *greener* (as in, a greater volume of plant life) than 30 years ago!

    See: Eastman, J.R., Sangermano, F., Machado, E.A., Rogan, J. and Anyamba, A. 2013. Global trends in seasonality of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), 1982-2011. Remote Sensing 5: 4799-4818.

    In concluding, the U.S. research team declares that “from this remarkable 30-year archive of satellite imagery, we thus see evidence of a greening trend,” which clearly indicates that the net result of the climatic and physiological effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on Earth’s terrestrial plant life has in the mean been decidedly beneficial.

    1. larryg Avatar

      CFCs are such a pollutant that they use them to cool things…

      ammonia is another cool chemical used to cool things.

      motor oil is a wonderful substance than enable cars…

      Jim – do you understand that CFCs are “good” and won’t hurt you if they escape from their containers… but if too much of it escapes it can doom the earth’s atmospheric shield?

      I don’t understand folks like you on this issue.

      if the constituents of the atmosphere change – they can change the very environment that makes the earth a viable planet.

      if you double or half nitrogen or even oxygen – or many of the other constituent parts – we could end up like Mars – or Venus.

      How can you be an armchair climate scientist guy with such a lack of knowledge about the atmospheric dynamics of earth or other planets?

      You sound like the flat earth mad hatters from a couple of centuries ago.

    2. larryg Avatar

      do you consider CFCs a “pollutant”?

Leave a Reply