May 30, 2004

Cleaner coal challenges wind

An article in today's Scotsman describes a plan to upgrade coal-burning power plants to reduce CO2 emissions by 20%. Projecting from the results of a pilot project, if all four units at the Longannet plant were converted, the savings would be equivalent to that claimed by the installation of 800 MW of wind turbines (about 500-800 towers). In fact, it would represent even more, because claims from the wind industry are invariably exaggerated. If all 18 coal-fired plants in the U.K. were converted, the CO2 saved would represent the amount claimed for 9,000 MW of wind-powered turbines. That would meet half of the U.K.'s goal for 2010. (That is all the more dramatic as electricity generation represents only a fraction of energy use; most targeted emissions come from heating and transportation.)

Although coal is not an ideal energy source, the plants already exist and provide reliable abundant power (unlike wind plants). It is clear that until real alternatives to fossil-fuel burning and nuclear fission are developed, such efforts to improve what we already have should be fostered. For now, efficiency and conservation are much better alternatives to the expensive and destructive dead end of wind power.