Tuesday, 5 February 2008

FutureGen - the fizzle heard round the world

After Washington Pulls Plug on FutureGen, Clean Coal Hopes Flicker.

Full story from The Wall Street Journal

The crippling blow dealt this week to FutureGen, the U.S. government's marquee effort to develop a "clean coal" power plant, will make it harder for the utility sector to slash carbon-dioxide emissions and keep coal in the mix over time as a cheap electricity source. It could also help push the nation toward greater reliance on nuclear power.

On Wednesday, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the Bush administration was yanking its support for the project, whose price tag had ballooned to $1.8 billion, nearly double original estimates. Energy Department officials said it was time to confront the cost issue, before equipment was ordered. Clay Sell, deputy energy secretary, said the easier, less-responsible path would have been to pretend everything was fine "and then when the thing went south, I could have blamed the next administration for failing to bring this good idea to fruition."

FutureGen may not be dead; at best it has been significantly delayed. If this ups the pressure for nuclear power in the United States, Australia - being even more dependant on coal as an energy source - will naturally endure the same as will other big coal burners such as India, China and the energy beleaguered South Africa to name a few.

It's either nuclear, economic ruin, or continued emissions increases [in a somewhat dire context for emissions reductions according to many experts]. I never thought of FutureGen, clean coal, etc. as a competitor to a nuclear Australia, but merely one of many technologies that might be deployed [once the technology was actually developed] in parallel to achieve the aggressive emission reduction goals being pushed by different scientific bodies.

We are constantly told that we must achieve emissions reduction goals that are becoming more aggressive with each passing year [Is it 80% of 1990 levels now?], while our tangible progress grinds to a continuously slowing dribble. What tangible emission reduction action there has been - particularly here in Australia - is great, but mostly symbolic. We need MUCH more, on a scale that will matter.

Garnaut is predicted to weigh in on the side of clean-coal and longer reduction goals. At the same time, promises of clean-coal are accepted as justification for new power stations around the country. We have a lot riding on the 'hope' of this technology in the midst of a no-confidence vote from the US Department of Energy.

And nuclear power is the white elephant in the room?

More information

FutureGen Alliance

FutureGen US DOE

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