Frequently Asked Questions

AmericasPower.org is sponsored by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which is a partnership of the industries involved in producing electricity from coal. Coal, an abundant and affordable American energy resource, plays a critical role in meeting our country's growing need for affordable and reliable electricity. America can fulfill the promise of a clean energy future while relying upon our abundant reserves of coal to meet growing energy needs. In fact, forecasts show that it is not a question of “if” we’ll use coal (we will), but rather “how” coal will be used. We answer “how” with one simple word. Cleanly. We support investments in technology that will ensure we continue to improve the environmental performance of coal to generate electricity while at the same time, keeping electricity affordable for American families and businesses. In addition to ACCCE’s funders, the America’s Power campaign is also proud to have the support of more than 200,000 community leaders from all across America who believe that we can meet America’s growing energy needs by relying on domestic energy resources. And, do so while keeping energy costs affordable for consumers and our economy, and continuing strong progress in protecting the environment by using advanced clean coal technologies.

Congress first coined the term clean coal technology in the mid-1980s – long before the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) was formed. Back then, Congress defined the phrase in reference to technologies that reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. Today, clean coal technology means much more. Broadly speaking, clean coal technology refers to technologies that improve the environmental performance of coal-based electricity plants. These technologies include equipment s that increases the operational efficiency of power plants, as well as technologies that reduce emissions. Early work to promote clean coal technologies focused on efforts to reduce traditional pollutant emissions like SO2; NOx; and particulate matter. Clean coal technology will continue to evolve as we develop and deploy new technologies to respond to environmental challenges. The coal-based electricity sector is working hard to bring the next generation of advanced clean coal technologies to the marketplace – including those used to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2). Currently, more than $12 billion in clean coal and other environmentally beneficial projects are underway in 43 states. Take a look at this map – it’s likely that a project is located near you.

Because of the industry’s continued investments in clean coal technology, the environmental performance of coal-based generation has been significantly improved. New coal plants built today using state-of-the-art technology offer improved environmental performance in terms of both efficiency and emissions reductions. According to the EPA and other sources, coal-fueled power plants are capable of reducing up to 98 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions and 90 percent of mercury emissions in some instances.

Here are the facts as we see them:

  • We rely on coal today. Over the past decade almost half of our electricity has been produced by coal.
  • We’re going to need to rely on coal for the foreseeable future, both in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Generating electricity from coal is less expensive than several other energy alternatives.
  • To date, the use of technology has made it possible to produce more electricity from coal to meet our country’s growing energy demand while significantly improving its environmental performance.
  • Finally, by continuing to invest in technology, we can reduce emissions even further, including the capture and safe storage of CO2.
A study commissioned by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University examined the value of coal to our nation’s economy. These researchers looked at direct jobs associated with coal and other derivative jobs that came about because of access to low-cost energy. They estimated that by 2015 coal-fueled electric generation would both directly and indirectly contribute around $1 trillion in gross economic output, $362 billion in annual household income and 6.8 million job-years. Click here to see the study. Generally, states that rely the most on coal to generate electricity have the lowest rates. In 2011, 30 states had electricity rates below the national average retail price of 9.99 cents/kWh. Those 30 states, which on average, generate 60 percent of their electricity from coal, paid an average of 8.7 cents/kWh.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a quarter of all of the known recoverable coal reserves in the world are here in America, and coal is found in 25 states. In fact, we have more energy in the form of coal than the entire Middle East has oil. At the current rate of consumption, coal can meet domestic demand for more than 200 years.
All energy resources do not produce electricity in the same way. Key differences exist in the type of consumer electricity demand and how electricity providers dispatch electricity to their customers, depending on those changes in demand. Electricity is produced as baseload power and as peaking power. Baseload power is the energy necessary to keep the electricity grid energized and meeting a constant demand. Peaking power is energy that comes on and off throughout the day, when electricity usage and energy demand go up and down. Peaking power uses resources, like natural gas, solar and wind, which are typically more expensive than baseload electricity generated with coal. Baseload power has to provide power 24/7.
The use of clean coal technologies has proven that we don’t have to choose between affordable, reliable electricity and a cleaner environment. Coal plants built today using state-of-the-art technology offer improved environmental performance both in terms of efficiency and emissions reductions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources, coal-fueled power plants are capable of reducing up to 98 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 90 percent of mercury emissions in some circumstances. Going forward, a new generation of advanced clean coal technologies will allow us to continue to protect the environment and still enjoy access to affordable, reliable electricity from coal. This continued environmental progress will include technologies to capture and safely store CO2.

The Obama administration is committed to the continued advancement of clean coal technology. In 2010, the White House announced the creation of a federal interagency task force on carbon capture and storage, led by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. The task force’s goal is to facilitate deployment of up to 10 commercial-scale clean coal power plants by 2016. This effort is important because coal will remain the backbone of the U.S. electricity generation for decades, and using carbon capture and storage is key to the continued use of coal while addressing climate-change concerns. The government also supports clean coal technology research though programs such as the Clean Coal Power Initiative. Its mission is to accelerate the deployment of commercial-scale clean coal technologies through government co-financing. The latest round of projects is focused on carbon capture and storage and the beneficial reuse of carbon dioxide. In addition, the Department of Energy created the Carbon Sequestration Regional Partnerships network in 2003 to help develop the technology, infrastructure and regulations to implement large-scale carbon dioxide storage. Currently, nine projects – which will demonstrate the long-term safe storage of CO2 – are under way.

With the right investments in technology, the U.S. can continue to achieve even lower emissions from coal-based power plants (including the capture and storage of CO2) and keep energy costs affordable for the American consumer. But there are always risks involved in bringing new technologies to the marketplace. In many cases, we’re talking about first-of-their-kind, first-of-their-scale technologies. Having the federal government share the financial responsibility speeds up the development of new technologies by reducing the financial risk to companies that may be hesitant to invest without assistance from the federal government. Also, development of new technologies benefits almost everyone. In the 1980s, Congress created the Clean Coal Technology Demonstration program. The federal government invested $5 billion, while private industry invested nearly $7 billion. This technology partnership led to the advancement and use of clean coal technologies such as scrubbers, selective catalytic reduction, low-NOx burners and integrated gasification combined-cycle units. And history shows government investments in CCT pay off well for the taxpayer and everyone who wants a cleaner environment. An American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity-funded study entitled DOE Clean Coal Technology Programs Offer Highest Return on Investment reports that by 2020, American taxpayers will see a return of $13 for every dollar the government invests in these technologies. As a result of these new technologies, we’ve made unprecedented progress in reduced pollution, increased use of domestic energy resources to meet growing energy demand and kept energy costs more affordable for the consumer.
With the right investments in technology, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and still enjoy the benefits of affordable, reliable electricity from coal. A number of field demonstration projects have shown progress in bringing this new generation of advanced clean coal technologies to the marketplace, including carbon that was captured and stored at American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Station in West Virginia. (Note: This project is currently on hold due to regulatory reasons as well as other factors.)

In its 2008 Carbon Sequestration Atlas, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that, together, the U.S. and Canada have enough capacity at our current rate of production to store almost 1,100 years’ worth of carbon dioxide. This storage capacity is located deep underground across the continent in varying types of geological formations – including “unmineable” coal seams as well as oil and gas reservoirs. To break it down, the U.S. and Canada are the source of 3.2 billion tons of man-made CO2 each year. However, the two nations have storage space for 3.5 trillion tons of CO2. Divide that out and we have a 1,093-year reservoir of CO2 storage. To see the latest Carbon Sequestrion Atlas, visit: http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/carbon_seq/natcarb/index.html

When coal is combusted, CO2 is released. With advanced technology, we can capture most of that CO2 before it goes into the atmosphere and put it right back underground where the carbon came from. It’s not a new concept of course. The oil and gas industry has injected CO2 into existing oil and gas wells for decades in order to increase production. In fact, some of the captured CO2 from coal-based power plants can be used to help increase domestic oil and gas production which, in turn, can help reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

We’re making real progress on bringing these new technologies to the marketplace. There have been a number of field demonstration projects looking at various technology options that have worked with a diverse array of coal-based power plants, including carbon that was captured and stored at American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Station in West Virginia. (Note: This project is currently on hold due to regulatory reasons as well as other factors.)
First, we need new projects to meet our growing energy demand. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that coal consumption will continue to increase in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Second, the U.S. will need new power plants to replace older plants that eventually retire. These new plants are more efficient and technologically advanced than the plants being retired. Eventually, we expect new plants to use carbon capture and storage technologies. Clean coal technology ensures that increasingly stringent environmental standards are met, while keeping coal – our most affordable, abundant domestically produced fuel – in the mix.
In order to address climate-change concerns and meet our shared national economic, energy and environmental goals, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity supports the adoption of federal carbon-management legislation, so long as such legislation is consistent with the goals adopted by our board. Such legislation must provide affordable, reliable energy; bring new technology to the marketplace and widely deploy those technologies; create American jobs; and promote greater American energy independence through the use of coal and other domestic energy resources. ACCCE does not support EPA regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because regulations cannot accomplish these goals.
Electric vehicles are great for Americans for several reasons. First, these cars will run on electricity rather than on petroleum products that often come from other countries. Powering cars from domestic fuel sources has the added benefit of ensuring greater national security. Additionally, if the plug-in hybrid’s electricity can be produced by power plants that use carbon capture and storage, we can also greatly reduce the greenhouse gases that are currently being released into the atmosphere by every car without increasing emissions in the electric power sector.
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