Polish Politicians Promise of Clean Coal Technologies is Bogus

The Polish politicians now reluctantly accept that they have to make noises like burning coal and lignite can be "clean." Every week, we heard a new speech about Poland jumping into "clean coal technologies." The rationale for this energy policy - ignoring the political motives- is that Poland has a lot of coal and that it is cheaper than greener and newer technologies. Both arguments are superficial at best and are fundamentally wrong.

First, "clean coal technologies" are not cheap. They are actually more expensive than other more modern renewable energy alternatives. Details for the United States which has been the global leader in trying to develop "clean coal technologies" clearly show the empty promise of this approach. A report of the results in the US indicates:

  • Duke Energy’s 595 megawatt Edwardsport Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle(IGCC) plant in Indiana. The world’s first large scale IGCC plant. The carbon capture and storage component of the project was dropped part way through construction, although the plant could be upgraded with carbon capture and storage in the future. Online date: June 2013. Forecast cost: $1.985 billion. Actual cost: $3.55 billion. Cost per unit of capacity: $6,000 per kilowatt.
  • The Southern Company’s 582 megawatt Kemper plant in Mississippi. The world’s first large scale IGCC plant with CCS. The carbon dioxide will be injected underground in a nearby oil field. Online date: first half of 2016. Initial forecast cost: $2.4 billion. Revised forecast: $6.2 billion. Cost per unit of capacity: over $10,000 per kilowatt.
  • SaskPower’s 110 megawatt Boundary Dam Project in Saskatchewan. The world’s first post-combustion coal-fired CCS project. The plant takes the flue gas from a pre-existing coal power plant and strips out the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide will be injected in a nearby oil field. Online date: late 2014. Actual cost: C$1.467 billion. Cost per unit of capacity: over US$12,000 per kilowatt (at today’s exchange rate).
The three plants received either direct government subsidies, or have been authorized by the government to recover costs from their captive customers—a sort of off-the-government’s books subsidy.
To put the plants’ costs in perspective, the graph below compares the capital cost per kilowatt of these plants with the capital costs of other technologies as estimated by the US Energy Information Administration: 


The above costs are US-based, so natural gas is very inexpensive and a domestic resource. But it is hard to argue that the comparative disparity in costs for clean coal will be any better in Poland. Polish politicians advocating this course here are actually promoting the energy plan that will have the most adverse economic consequences on Polish end-users.

The argument that Poland has coal and therefore it is better to use it is equally fallacious. Poland also has wind, sunshine, organic waste and other things that can produce energy cheaper and cleaner than "clean coal technologies."   Theoretically, Poland could make a lot of buggy whips as well, but that does not mean that such an endeavor would be prudent or sound.

In the end, watching the Polish politicians struggling to find a way to justify the impossible premise of keeping dependence on coal reminds me of Dr. Samuel Johnson's remark about dogs who can walk on only their hind legs. "One wonders not so much about how they do it as why they bother."

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There is an abundance of published reports and professional opinions on this subject and no real room for doubt about the conclusions.

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