Thursday, March 12, 2009

Coal:Cheap and Abundant: Or Is It?

Here's an eye opener from the desk of Leslie Glustrom, Clean Energy Action Boulder, Colorado

Coal-fired power plants provide approximately 50% of the electricity in the United States. It has often been stated that coal is “cheap and abundant” and it is assumed that it will stay that way for at least the next century. A careful analysis of existing information on coal supplies suggests that United States coal supplies are much more constrained than is widely understood. Indeed, it appears that with existing mines playing out over the next 10-20 years and future mine expansions highly uncertain, the planning horizon for building alternative power production infrastructure is likely to be much shorter than previously thought.

A careful review of existing information on U.S. coal supplies demonstrates that:1) The U.S. Energy Information Administration has repeatedly published data on coal “reserves” as though they include an assessment of economic recoverability when inactuality they did not. As a result, the often touted “200 year supply of U.S. coal” is notbased on a realistic assessment of how much coal will actually be accessible.2) The United States Geological Survey has developed a tool for assessing economic recoverability and published a series of reports showing that the amount of economically recoverable coal is a small fraction (e.g. less than 20%) of the original resource.

The most recent USGS assessment of coal in the Gillette coal field of thePowder River Basin of Wyoming, the source of about 40% of U.S. coal, found that only6% of the coal was economically accessible under the economic conditions at the time.Between 2002 and 2008, while coal costs were rising dramatically, the USGS reduced the amount of economically accessible coal in the Gillette coal field of the Powder RiverBasin from 23 billion tons to 10 billion tons.3) The major mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming (e.g. the “Fort Knox”of U.S. coal) have less than a 20 year life span, and coal mines in other parts of theUnited States are also likely to be playing out in the next 20 years. Future coal mine expansions are highly uncertain as these expansions will face very serious geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints. Importantly, the federal government own sessentially all of the coal in the western United States, and future coal mine expansions in western states will have to comply with a host of federal laws.IN

CONCLUSION, It appears that rather than having a “200 year supply of coal,” the United States has a much shorter planning horizon for moving beyond coal-fired power plants. Depending on the resolution of geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints facing future coal mine expansion, the planning horizon for moving beyond coal could be as short as 20-30 years.

My take,
Big Coal's day is over.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Always welcome.