Utilities to test clean-coal technologiesadmin
A Colorado mountainside, the high plains of Wyoming or the Dakota prairie may become the next proving ground for a gee-whiz technology to clean up coal-fired power plants.
Several utilities, including Xcel Energy, are looking at building a $1 billion demonstration plant to prove the technology — called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC — will work in the West.
An IGCC plant can cost as much as 20 percent more to build than a conventional plant, but the technology could make it more efficient to operate and could help companies avoid the hassle and expense of adding pollution-control devices, industry officials say.
“That’s one of the reasons why companies that are anticipating the possibility of greenhouse gas regulation are trying to build coal gasification facilities,” said Dan Riedinger of the Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies. “They’re cleaner off the bat.”
With increased demand for electricity and concern about global warming caused by carbon dioxide, there is renewed interest in clean-coal technologies like IGCC and FutureGen, a $1 billion power plant project designed to essentially eliminate polluting emissions.
Multiple states are bidding for the project, which is still in the planning stages.
In a conventional power plant, coal is pulverized and burned in a boiler to produce electricity. Emissions are caught and filtered at the back end of the process.
IGCC technology converts coal to a gas that is burned in a turbine to produce electricity. Pollutants are removed before the fuel is burned, Riedinger said. The technology is being used in plants in Indiana and Florida but has yet to be tested with Western coal at a higher altitude.
Western coal has a higher moisture content and lower heating value, so it takes more coal to produce the same amount of heat as coal mined in the eastern United States, said geologist Nick Jones of the Wyoming State Geological Society.
The 2005 Energy Policy Act includes financial incentives specifically for an IGCC plant built at an altitude of at least 4,000 feet in a Western state and operates on Western coal.
Some utilities have said they will seek federal incentives, while others will probably seek regulatory approval to get their investment back from ratepayers. There could be multiple plants.