NYT on “capture-ready” coal plants

posted by Luke Ran

Today’s New York Times highlights growing skepticism about “clean coal.” Coal companies like TXU are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Industry spin describes plants like the eleven planned facilities in Texas as “capture-ready;” this apparently means saving a little extra space in the plan for hypothetical carbon-capture equipment so that it can be installed at some unspecified future date.

As the article points out, no technology exists to remove carbon from the emissions of pulverized coal plants like those that TXU wants to build in Texas. Furthermore, even if sequestration technology is developed, retrofitting a power plant isn’t as simple as putting in a catalytic converter. The temperatures and pressures at which a plant operates might have to change and power output might be reduced by as much as 30%. In other words, it’s an expensive proposition that operators won’t shell out for if they can help it–more expensive than waiting a few years and building a plant with sequestration. It’s hard to believe that most “capture-ready” plants will ever be converted to sequester carbon.

Plants like those that TXU wants to build are “capture-ready” in the same way that a broken car is “repair-ready.” Describing them that way is spin of the most cynical variety. To the extent that anyone buys it, it allows those building the plants to claim that they’re “clean” while profiting from the dirtiest method of generating power.