- Fossil-fuel phase-out
A fossil fuel phase-out are plans for transport electrification, decommissioning of operating fossil fuel-fired power plants and prevention of the construction of new fossil-fuel-fired power stations. The purpose of this is to decrease the high concentration of greenhouse gas emissions, which are the scientific consensus for the cause of the current climate change. The energy vectors concerned are petroleum (oil), natural gas (gas), and coal.
Studies about coal phase out and climate change
In 2008, James E. Hansen and eight other scientists published the 38-page journal article "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" which called for phasing out coal power completely by the year 2030.
Also in 2008, Pushker Kharecha and James E. Hansen published a peer-reviewed scientific study analyzing the effect of a coal phase-out on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Their baseline mitigation scenario was a phaseout of global coal emissions by 2050. The authors describe the scenario as follows:
- The second scenario, labeled Coal Phase-out, is meant to approximate a situation in which developed countries freeze their CO2 emissions from coal by 2012 and a decade later developing countries similarly halt increases in coal emissions. Between 2025 and 2050 it is assumed that both developed and developing countries will linearly phase out emissions of CO2 from coal usage. Thus in Coal Phase-out we have global CO2 emissions from coal increasing 2% per year until 2012, 1% per year growth of coal emissions between 2013 and 2022, flat coal emissions for 2023–2025, and finally a linear decrease to zero CO2 emissions from coal in 2050. These rates refer to emissions to the atmosphere and do not constrain consumption of coal, provided the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Oil and gas emissions are assumed to be the same as in the BAU [Business as Usual] scenario.
Kharecha and Hansen also consider three other mitigation scenarios, all with the same coal phase-out schedule but each making different assumptions about the size of oil and gas reserves and the speed at which they are depleted. Under the Business as Usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 parts per million (ppm) in the year 2100. Under the four coal phase-out scenarios, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 422-446 ppm between 2045 and 2060 and declines thereafter. The key implications of the study are as follows: a phase-out of coal emissions is the most important remedy for mitigating human-induced global warming; actions should be taken toward limiting or stretching out the use of conventional oil and gas; and strict emissions-based constraints are needed for future use of unconventional fossil fuels such as methane hydrates and tar sands.
A significant portion of total global carbon emissions are from electricity generation - coal, specifically, accounts for up to one-third of global carbon emissions. So to decrease carbon emissions and thus possibly stop extreme climate change from occurring, coal should be phased out.
This course of action is being undertaken by several governments. Germany is an example of a country that is phasing out coal Solar and wind are major sources of energy and renewable energy generation, currently around 15%, is growing. Coal is still a source of power in Germany, but it is gradually being replaced with renewable energy. Globally, coal is one the largest sources of energy in the world. During 2006, 27 percent of the world's primary energy is generated from the burning of coal. As a way to phase out coal, a few countries, in which coal is primary source of energy, have enacted legislation to prevent the construction of any new coal facilities and to close operating coal fired facilities. Also in several such countries, initiatives have been started to support the viability of the renewable energy industry to replace decommissioned coal facilities. However, many other countries, such as the United States and Great Britain, but especially China and India, are planning increased coal production to aid their economic advance. Both China and India have large reserves of coal, but relatively little oil, natural gas, hydro, solar or wind capacity, and are heavily dependent on coal for electricity generation. According to Scientific American, the average coal plant emits more than 100 times as much radiation per year than a comparatively sized nuclear power plant does, in the form of toxic, radioactive fly ash.
Some believe that coal should not be phased out and that clean coal technology is the way all emission from the burning of coal can be restrained. But the renewable energy infrastructure, unlike unproven carbon-capture technology, is being deployed now. Some environmentalists and climatologists support a phase-out and criticise clean coal as not a solution to climate change, while entrepreneurs promote improved regulations and modernised technology. Others point out that such a policy would affect developing countries most seriously because of the scarcity of other fossil fuels.
Legislation and initiatives to phase out coal
The 20 leaders of the world's top industrialized nations, as well as key countries with developing economies, have agreed to phase out their subsidies for fossil fuels, including coal. In a concluding statement from the Group of 20 (G20) Summit—held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 24 and 25, 2009 —the nations' leaders agreed to "phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies." The G20 leaders also called for targeted support for poor people that would be impacted by higher prices for fossil fuels. The leaders noted that "inefficient" fossil-fuel subsidies "encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources, and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change." The agreement will ultimately phase out nearly $300 billion in global subsidies for fossil fuels. And as noted in a White House fact sheet, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency estimate that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies worldwide would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 10% or more by 2050.
The Australian Greens party have proposed to phase out coal power stations. The NSW Greens proposed an immediate moratorium on coal-fired power stations and want to end all coal mining and coal industry subsidies. The Federal Government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, an emissions trading scheme will, if enacted, make it more difficult for new coal fired power stations to be developed . The Federal Government and Victorian State Government want to modify existing coal-fired power stations into clean coal power stations. The Federal Labor government extended the mandatory renewable energy targets, an initiative to ensure that new sources of electricity are more likely to be from wind power, solar power and other sources of renewable energy in Australia.
Australia is not only one of the largest consumers of coal, but also one of the largest producers, and the proposals are strongly opposed by industry and the main Opposition Party in Parliament.
Ontario has passed coal phase-out legislation. In 2007, Ontario's Liberal government committed to phasing out all coal generation in the province by 2014. Premier Dalton McGuinty said, "By 2030 there will be about 1,000 more new coal-fired generating stations built on this planet. There is only one place in the world that is phasing out coal-fired generation and we're doing that right here in Ontario."
There are currently no plans to phase out coal burning power stations in the People's Republic of China. In fact, it's quite the reverse.
China’s exceedingly high energy demand has pushed the demand for relatively cheap coal-fired power. Each week, another 2GW of coal-fired power is put online in China. Coal supplies about 80% of China's energy needs today, and that ratio is expected to continue, even as overall power usage grows rapidly.
In addition to the huge investments in coal power, China is also building large nuclear power plants. The largest hydro power plant in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, is also the largest power plant of any kind, and it operates in China.
India is in no way phasing out coal or fossil fuels in general. The annual report of India's Power Ministry has a plan to grow power by about 80GW as part of their 11th 5-year plan, and 79% of that growth will be in fossil-fuel fired power plants, primarily coal. India plans four new "ultra mega" coal-fired power plants as part of that growth, each 4000MW in capacity.
In 2007 German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party agreed to legislation to phase out Germany's lignite mining sector. That does not mean that they support phasing out coal in general. There are plans to build about 25 new plants in the coming years. Most German coal power plants were built in the 1960s, and have a low energy efficiency. Public sentiment against coal power plants is growing and the construction or planning of some plants has been successfully stopped.
In October 2007 the Clark Labour government introduced a moratorium on coal-fired power plants. The ban was limited to state-owned utilities, though an extension to private sector was considered. The Key National government elected in November 2008 lifted the moratorium.
Around 77% of South Africa's energy demand is directly met by coal, and when current projects come online, this ratio will increase in the near term.
There are no plans to phase out coal fired power plants in South Africa, and indeed, the country is investing in building massive amounts of new coal-fired capacity to meet power demands, as well as modernizing the existing coal-fired plants to meet environmental requirements.
On April 6, 2010, the World Bank approved a $3.75B loan to SA to support the construction of the world's 4th largest coal-fired plant, at Medupi. The proposed World Bank loan includes a relatively small amount - $260 million - for wind and solar power.
Rated at 4800MW, Medupi would join other mammoth coal-fired power plants already in operation in the country, namely Kendal (4100MW), Majuba (4100), and Matimba (4000), as well as a similar-capacity Kisile, at 4800MW, currently under construction. Kisile is expected to come online in stages, starting in 2012, while Medupi is expected to first come online in 2013, with full capacity available by 2017. These schedules are provisional, and may change.
Some estimate that after Kisile and Medupi come online, South Africa will then derive 94% of its domestic energy from coal.
Ed Miliband announced that no new coal-fired power stations will be built in Britain from 2009 onwards unless they capture and bury at least 25% of greenhouse gases immediately and 100% by 2025 although at the time this was a statement of intent rather than something he was able to enforce. 
The UK is also subject to the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive covering non-CO2 emissions which is expected to bring many older plants to a close over the next few years as they are too expensive to upgrade. 
As of 2007, 154 new coal-fired plants are on the drawing board in 42 states.
California's SB 1368 created the first governmental moratorium on new coal plants in the United States. The law was signed in September 2006 by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, took effect for investor-owned utilities in January 2007, and took effect for publicly owned utilities in August 2007. SB 1368 applied to long-term investments (five years or more) by California utilities, whether in-state or out-of-state. It set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, the equal to the emissions of a combined-cycle natural gas plant. This standard created a de facto moratorium on new coal, since it could not be met without carbon capture and sequestration.
On April 15, 2008, Maine Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 2126, "An Act To Minimize Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Coal-Powered Industrial and Electrical Generating Facilities in the State." The law, which was sponsored by Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald (D-Boothbay), requires the Board of Environmental Protection to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for coal gasification facilities. It also puts a moratorium in place on building any new coal gasification facilities until the standards are developed.
In 2006 a coalition of Texas groups organized a campaign in favor of a statewide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. The campaign culminated in a "Stop the Coal Rush" mobilization, including rallying and lobbying, at the state capital in Austin on February 11 and 12th, 2007. Over 40 citizen groups supported the mobilization.
In January, 2007, A resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on new pulverized coal plants was filed in the Texas Legislature on Wednesday by State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson (R-Waco) as House Concurrent Resolution 43. The resolution was left pending in committee. On December 4, 2007, Rep. Anderson announced his support for two proposed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants proposed by Luminant (formerly TXU).
Washington has followed the same approach as California, prohibiting coal plants whose emissions would exceed those of natural gas plants. Substitute Senate Bill 6001 (SSB 6001), signed on May 3, 2007, by Governor Christine Gregoire, enacted the standard. As a result of SSB 6001, the Pacific Mountain Energy Center in Kalama was rejected by the state. However, a new plant proposal, the Wallula Energy Resource Center, shows the limits of the "natural gas equivalency" approach as a means of prohibiting new coal plants. The proposed plant would meet the standard set by SSB 6001 by capturing and sequestering a portion (65 percent, according to a plant spokesman) of its carbon.
Utility action in the US
- Progress Energy Carolinas announced on June 1, 2007, that it was beginning a two-year moratorium on proposals for new coal-fired power plants while it undertook more aggressive efficiency and conservation programs. The company added, "Additional reductions in future electricity demand growth through energy efficiency could push the need for new power plants farther into the future."
- Public Service of Colorado concluded in its November 2007 Resource Plan: "In sum, in light of the now likely regulation of CO2 emissions in the future due to broader interest in climate change issues, the increased costs of constructing new coal facilities,and the increased risk of timely permitting to meet planned in-service dates, Public Service does not believe it would not be prudent to consider at this time any proposals for new coal plants that do not include CO2 capture and sequestration.
- Xcel Energy noted in its 2007 Resource Plan that "given the likelihood of future carbon regulation, we have only modeled a future coal-based resource option that includes carbon capture and storage."
- Minnesota Power Company announced in December 2007 that it would not consider a new coal resource without a carbon solution.
- Avista Utilities announced that it does not anticipate pursuing coal-fired power plants in the foreseeable future.
- NorthWestern Energy announced on December 17, 2007, that it planned to double its wind power capacity over the next seven years and steer away from new baseload coal plants. The plans are detailed in the company's 2007 Montana Electric Supply Resource Plan.
- California Energy Commission (CEC) has initiated its review of two 53.4-megawatt solar thermal power plants that will each include a 40-megawatt biomass power plant to supplement the solar power.
Public support for a coal moratorium
In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll of 1,003 U.S. citizens conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.
The authors of the poll reported: "75 percent of Americans –-including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents—would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy—such as wind and solar—and improved home energy-efficiency standards.' Women (80 percent) were more likely than men (70 percent) to support this idea. Support also was higher among college graduates (78 percent) than among those who did not graduate from high school (68 percent).
The exact question posed by the survey was as follows: More than half of power plant-generated electricity comes from coal. Experts say that power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution linked to global warming. There are plans to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the next several years. Would you support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe and renewable energy –such as wind and solar –and improved home energy-efficiency standards? Would you say definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no, or don't know.
The results were as follows:
- 30% "definitely yes"
- 45% "probably yes"
- 13% "probably no"
- 8% "definitely no"
- 4% "don't know"
CLEAN call to action
In October, 2007, fifteen groups led by Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) called for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, with no exception for plants sequestering carbon. The groups included Save Our Cumberland Mountains (Tennessee); Ohio Valley Environmental Council (West Virginia); Cook Inlet Keeper (Alaska); Christians for the Mountains (West Virginia); Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Civil Society Institute (Massachusetts); Clean Power Now (Massachusetts); Indigenous Environmental Network (Minnesota); Castle Mountain Coalition (Alaska); Citizens Action Coalition (Indiana); Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment (West Virginia); Appalachian Voices (NC); and Rhode Island Wind Alliance (Rhode Island).
Other citizen groups supporting a coal moratorium
- Energy Action Coalition
- Rainforest Action Network
- Kansas Sierra Club
- Coal Moratorium Now!
- Step It Up! 2007
- Co-op America
- Rising Tide Australia
- Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN)
- Trillium Asset Management, a social investment management company, submitted the resolution "Moratorium on Coal Financing" to Bank of America in the 2007-2008 shareholder resolution season. The resolution concluded:
- "RESOLVED: Shareholders request that BOA’s board of directors amend its GHG emissions policies to observe a moratorium on all financing, investment and further involvement in activities that support MTR coal mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide.
Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium
- Al Gore:
“ If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration. ”
- Banker and financier Tom Sanzillo, currently First Deputy Comptroller for the state of New York, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in the state of Iowa. Citing slow growth in electricity demand and better alternative sources of energy, Sanzillo said, "It's not only good public policy, it's great economics."
- Mary Wood, Professor of Law at the University of Oregon, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in an videocast lecture to the University of Montana on February 19, 2008. Wood compared the urgency of the climate crisis to World War II: “Nothing less than a massive global effort on the scale of WWII can save our climate.”
Prominent individuals supporting a coal phase-out
- Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, called for replacing all fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy in twenty years.
EPA lawyers supporting a coal moratorium
In May, 2008, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two lawyers at the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote a public letter opposing cap-and-trade solutions to greenhouse gas emissions and supporting a federal moratorium on new coal plants that don't sequester their carbon dioxide emissions. The letter, "Urgent Plea for Enactment of Carbon Fees and Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants without Carbon Sequestration," was written in their capacity as citizens rather than in their capacity as EPA employees.
Mayors supporting a coal moratorium
On October 13, 2007, Pocatello, Idaho, mayor Roger Chase told other mayors from across the state attending an Association of Idaho Cities legislative committee that he favored a moratorium no new coal plants in the state.
In January 2008, Charlottesville, VA, mayor Dave Norris blogged in favor of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. On December 19, 2007, Charlottesville passed the Charlottesville Clean Energy Resolution putting the city on record as supporting a moratorium.
Other politicians supporting a moratorium
- Ed Fallon, running against incumbent Leonard Boswell for Democratic Party nomination for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, stated his support for a coal moratorium and criticized Boswell's statement that "coal will be the mainstay for electricity for decades to come."
Local governmental bodies supporting a coal moratorium
- In January, 2008, Black Hawk County (Iowa) Health Board recommended that the state adopt a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until it enacts tougher air pollution standards.
Move Toward Renewables
Some electricity producers are changing from coal to renewables.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel's voluntary decision to shut down two coal-fired power plants in the state and building one of the world's largest utility-scale solar power plants and adding 850 megawatts of wind energy to its system .
Biomass power is a growing trend in the United States. In 2006, Public Service of New Hampshire finished converting one of its coal-fired power plants into a 50-MW biomass power plant, the Northern Wood Power Project, which is fueled with woodchips. In 2008, DTE Biomass Energy (DTE Energy Company) agreed to buy the 50-MW E.J. Stoneman Power Plant in Cassville, Wisconsin, with plans to convert it to burn wood waste in 2009.
Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, asked the state's public service commission for approval to convert the coal-fired Plant Mitchell to run on wood fuel. If approved, the retrofit will begin in 2011 and the biomass plant will start operating in mid-2012. The 96-MW biomass plant will run on surplus wood from suppliers within a 100-mile radius of the plant, which is located near Albany, Georgia.
Coal-fired power plant in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, that formerly provided electricity to a sugar mill and has been out of operations since 2004, is seeking approval for conversion into a 24-megawatt (MW) biomass power plant. The plant was renamed the Hū Honua Bioenergy Facility by the lessees of the plant assets. Located about 8 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, the facility will draw on residual wood from the local timber industry and other biomass wastes to produce enough power for about 18,000 homes, meeting up to 10% of the Big Island's electricity needs, and serving as baseload power that will offset diesel generators elsewhere on the Big Island, likely those located in Hilo. The Plant received its Special Management Area permit in May, 2011, and is in the final stage of review for its air permit modification request, which asked the Hawaii Department of Health to allow the facility to burn biomass rather than coal.
Companies are also building new power plants designed to run on biomass.
- Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
- Burning the Future: Coal in America
- Clear Skies
- The Coal Question
- Electricity generation
- Energy policy
- Georgia Power
- New Source Review
- POLES energy model
- Renewable energy
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