Thursday, September 25, 2008

Al Gore: "Clean Coal is a Lie"

Lots of talk yesterday at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative about whether the current financial crisis would have a negative impact on global health and development investment. Consensus was that that shouldn't be allowed to happen--no surprise there.

The plenary session was kind of a sleepy affair until Al Gore started talking. He really woke up the room with a harangue about how the coal industry has spent half a billion dollars advertising "clean coal."

"Clean coal is a lie," Gore said, his voice rising. "It's like healthy cigarettes." He argued that the current financial crisis is nothing compared to what's going to happen with the environment. "The world has several trillion dollars in sub-prime carbon assets," he said. Then he went on to call for a national "smart grid" for electricity and a carbon tax to reduce the payroll tax.

Another point that caught my attention: a worldwide smart grid would allow countries in the developing world to export electricity from renewable energy sources (like wind and the sun) to the rich world.


Brad Johnson said...

I've put up the video of his remarks with a full transcript at the Wonk Room.

Anonymous said...

its strange to see Gore campaign in this way. He's packaged it up so the big headline is "clean coal doesn't exist", and he writes and speaks using terms like "cynical and self interested illusion", or the technology is not "anywhere close to being reality". Yet he must be aware that the IPCC published its Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage which states the technology is "well understood", i.e. ready to go right now, as it is "economically feasible under specific conditions", i.e. it exists in commercial use right now, where a carbon tax forces a company to use the process in Norway, or where CO2 injection into oilfields in enhanced oil recovery schemes make underground storage economical in North America.

The cost, again, according to the IPCC, would be between 6 - 7.5 cents a kwhr total wholesale cost of 90% CO2 reduced electricity coming out of the plant vrs 5 cents now. This is a substantial increase, i.e. 20 - 50%, but compare the 2.5 cents a kw/hr to your retail rate and think it over. Compare the 7.5 cents a kw/hr to all the figures you've ever heard about solar thermal or solar voltaic and remember this is baseload power.

Instead of advocating that Obama pursue his stated plan to help industry build the first five full scale plants to finally make this technology sink or swim, Gore is pandering to a group of activists who soured on Big Coal's "clean coal" PR campaign of all talk and no build after FutureGen was cancelled by Bush.

I remember reading Obama's policy statement about its time for American leadership to asset itself again. Gore is trying to stop Obama with this campaign. The world is using coal. China is putting in a new plant every week. Germany has 26 on the drawing board and they are all not planning to use carbon capture. What's wrong with the US, a country that has the biggest reserves of coal in the world, showing the world the way to use it?

Christine Gorman said...

Can't speak for Gore but I remember he was also talking about how coal is extracted. Which brings up EPA's latest rule-change--in the works for a while now--to allow removal and dumping of mountaintops in coal mining.

What does it profit to mitigate the CO2 impact of coal if you end up fouling the land in the process?

David Lewis said...

The choices civilization faces for energy all have some aspects no one would want. The latest Scientific American magazine plan for solar involves covering 30,000 square miles of desert with mirrors or solar panels. I would agree with anyone who advocated taking all the costs and benefits of each technology into account when making a decision. I don't agree with Gore's approach on his anti "clean coal" campaign: just because the coal industry acts as if it could care less if the planet is killed as they spread their lies calculated to stop action they don't want doesn't give Gore and his friends a license to do the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Here's what Stephen Chu signed off on as co-chair of the IAC study panel that wrote "Lighting the Way" which was supposed to be top flight scientific advice for policy makers on energy, including coal:

"the general public needs to be thoroughly informed about the advantages of carbon sequestration and about the relative manageability of associated risks"

and, the report advocates we should:

"Aggressively pursue efforts to commercialize carbon capture and storage. Moving forward with full scale demonstration projects is crucial, as is continued study and experimentation to reduce costs, improve reliability, and address concerns about leakage, public safety, and other issues."