The vice presidential debate brought up the topic of clean coal again and again... I've heard there's no such thing as clean coal. Is this a viable option to address climate change??!
Clean coal is not a clean energy option that America should be focused on as a solution to affecting climate change if Americans want to have an impact in any measurable way.
The "clean coal" term that politicians throw around is a blanket term for various industry approaches to address the pollutants and greenhouse gases released by burning coal, while still continuing to burn coal. Approximately 30% of the world's electricity was run by coal fired power plants in 2007 and it is thought that efforts to implement clean coal technologies (such as sequestration and carbon capture) are not currently meaningful and could not be broadly adopted before 2025.
In addition to the hazardous effects that mining coal can have upon the workers involved in its extraction from the Earth (such as "black lung"), mercury and other harmful byproducts of coal fired plant combustion demonstrably harmful to the environment if not properly contained. It is possible to scrub some toxins and particulates from coal fired plant emissions, it is not possible to eliminate Co2 as a result of burning coal or various forms of fossil fuel. It is also not known what the long term effects of sequestration of Co2 might be if that involves pumping Co2 back into the Earth which is one strategy. The total cost of ownership across the value chain associated with operating a clean coal system is not known.
It is estimated that a coal fired plant costs $1,300 per kilowatt to produce whereas a "clean coal" facility might cost $1,800 or a 38% premium. Power companies do not absorb these costs; they are absorbed by our taxes (through subsidies to utilities) or by higher retail rates charged for power. As coal is not a long term solution to reducing the production of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, clean coal is not a sustainable, long-term investment strategy for the government or the private sector.
In the United States, electricity generation is responsible for approximately 41% of this country's carbon dioxide production. Buildings consume 70% of our electricity and produce slightly less than 29% of the country's carbon dioxide output. The solution to powering our green buildings lies elsewhere.
Clean coal should only be considered as part of an aggressive and consistently publicly funded integrated alternative energy plan. Such an energy plan would make clean energy sources including wind, solar, hydroelectric, co-generation technologies and geothermal, not fossil fuels or coal, the objective for the United States' energy independence.