Tuesday, October 09, 2007

CO2 Regulation & Renewables Moving Utilities Towards Clean

Coal and nuclear plants may not be dropping like flies, but the business climate and the planet’s climate have caused some utilities to think twice about investing in them.

Tampa Electric of Florida has announced that it won’t build a coal plant to meet future energy needs, as originally planned. The coal plant was going to be an integrated gasification combined-cycle plant, or IGCC, which means that the coal is broken down into different gases that make it easier to pull out and store the carbon dioxide (CO2) so it doesn’t get released into the atmosphere. It’s still a very expensive technology and has yet to be tested on a very large scale, but because the U.S. is so reliant on coal power, many believe sequestration is the only way to cut emissions fast enough to slow global warming.

Tampa Electric cited the uncertain future regulation of CO2, the challenge of carbon capture and sequestration, and the associated costs. Although the utility sees IGCC as playing a significant role in future energy needs, the economic risks were too high and too uncertain at this time to proceed. Instead, the utility will look at other technologies like renewables, natural gas, and efficiency. Florida has also had a slew of new clean energy laws, including limits on global warming emissions and requiring utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewables.

Likewise, Xcel Energy says it can delay the need for new baseload generation in Minnesota because of its diversification into new, cleaner energy (particularly wind power and efficiency measures). Xcel argued that more hydropower from Canada – not considered “green” by many because of its destruction to native communities there – and upgrades to nuclear plants are not needed because of the aggressive energy bills passed during the last legislative session. Those laws direct Xcel to get 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources and to begin cutting energy use 1.5 percent annually beginning in 2010. Xcel’s own analysis concluded:

“[C]learly there will be periods when available wind energy will supplant base-load resources to meet our customers’ energy needs.”

Diversifying our energy sources and emphasizing efficiency measures have started impacting how utilities do business and how their customers power their lives. While there is no silver bullet for a clean energy future, changes like these are all part of the “silver BB” approach to get us moving towards a smarter energy system in the 21st century.

Cross posted on Green Options

The Energy Blog Wind Energy Weekly

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