If President Donald Trump truly wants to revitalize the coal industry, he should continue to support the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy’s research efforts, representatives of the coal industry said in a March 10 letter.
“In light of recent calls for dramatic cuts to the federal budget, we want to stress that every dollar allocated to fossil energy research is an investment in the long-term future of America’s coal and fossil fuel industry,” the letter, addressed to Trump, says.
Signatories of the letter include Colin Marshall, president and CEO of Cloud Peak Energy; John Eaves, director and CEO of Arch Coal; John Previsich, president of the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART); Shannon Angielski, executive director of the Carbon Utilization Research Council; Newton Jones, international president of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers; Brad Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council; and Jay Faison, founder and CEO of ClearPath Action.
“We very much appreciate your commitment to revitalizing the coal industry. As representatives of top coal companies, labor unions and organizations focused on the continued use of our fossil fuel resources, we look forward to collaborating with your administration to help grow our economy, improve our energy security and put American families back to work,” the letter says. “Success will require targeted and robust federal investment in fossil energy technologies and a strong public-private partnership.”
DOE has worked with the private sector over the past several years on a number of large-scale carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) projects. These projects have been costly and, with few exceptions, have not ended favorably.
“Just one example of the effectiveness of this public-private partnership is the Petra Nova project in Texas, which will be the world’s largest project capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal generation,” the letter notes. Petra Nova reached full operation in early 2017, on time and budget.
While Petra Nova has been a success, many other large-scale CCUS projects funded by the department have not gone down the same path. Southern Company’s Kemper County Energy Facility, a new-build pre-combustion CCUS project in Mississippi, is three years behind schedule and will cost nearly three times its original budget when it is completed.
The FutureGen 2.0 project, an oxycombustion retrofit to be located in Illinois, was abandoned in 2015. Likewise, Summit Power’s Texas Clean Energy Project, and SCS Energy’s Hydrogen Energy California project, have also been canceled.
Nevertheless, the letter urges Trump to continue to support public-private partnerships such as Petra Nova. “The private sector, and in particular the power sector, is ill-suited to drive research or support high-capital, commercial investments in first-of-its-kind technologies with the need to provide reliable and affordable power, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Deployment of cutting-edge technologies, such as the case with Petra Nova, would not happen without public-private partnerships,” the letter says.
Faison also teamed up with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead to pen a March 12 editorial in The Washington Times. “Funding and support of CCUS research and technology development accelerate economic and environmental progress. Investment at the federal level can encourage and promote demonstration projects that result in solutions on a commercial scale,” the two wrote.
However, Trump is getting conflicting advice on the topic, as is apparent from a Heritage Foundation report released in January, which suggests that the federal government should not play a role in the commercialization of technologies.
The Heritage Foundation report suggests axing the Office of Fossil Energy all together. “Even research that is in the early stages of commercial readiness but has an end goal of improving the functionality of wind power or extracting natural resources more effectively should be left to the private sector,” the report says.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter