The primary reasons for a government to try this option are the problematic toxic emissions involved with mining and burning coal, which have been implicated as causes of global warming and climate change. Emissions from electricity generation account for a signifcant portion of world greenhouse gas emissions; in the United States, electricity generation accounts for nearly 40 percent of emissions, the largest of any source
Clean coal technology plays a critized role in the debate, and there is a divide among environmentalists and climatologists who support a phase-out versus entrepreneurs who promote improved regulations and modernized technology.
A 38-page document authored by James Hansen and eight other scientists, entitled “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” calls for phasing out coal power completely by the year 2030 .
In 2008 P.A. Kharecha and James Hansen released a study projecting the effect of a coal phase-out on atmospheric CO2 levels. One scenario was a phaseout of coal emissions by 2050. The authors describe the scenario as follows:
On April 15, 2008, Maine Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 2126, "An Act To Minimize Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Coal-Powered Industrial and Electrical Generating Facilities in the State." The law, which was sponsored by Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald (D-Boothbay), requires the Board of Environmental Protection to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for coal gasification facilities. It also puts a moratorium in place on building any new coal gasification facilities until the standards are developed.
In 2006 a coalition of Texas groups organized a campaign in favor of a statewide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. The campaign culminated in a "Stop the Coal Rush" mobilization, including rallying and lobbying, at the state capital in Austin on February 11 and 12th, 2007. Over 40 citizen groups supported the mobilization.f
In January, 2007, A resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on new pulverized coal plants was filed in the Texas Legislature on Wednesday by State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson (R-Waco) as House Concurrent Resolution 43. The resolution was left pending in committee. On December 4, 2007, Rep. Anderson announced his support for two proposed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants proposed by Luminent (formerly TXU).
Washington has followed the same approach as California, prohibiting coal plants whose emissions would exceed those of natural gas plants. Substitute Senate Bill 6001 (SSB 6001), signed on May 3, 2007, by Governor Gregoire, enacted the standard. As a result of SSB 6001, the Pacific Mountain Energy Center in Kalama was rejected by the state. However, a new plant proposal, the Wallula Energy Resource Center, shows the limits of the "natural gas equivalency" approach as a means of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants. This proposed plant would meet the standard set by SSB 6001, even though it would capture and sequester a portion (65 percent, according to a plant spokesman) of its carbon.
In March, 2008, Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey, co-chair of the U.S. House or Representatives Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, introduced H.R. 5575, the “Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008.” The legislation addresses the largest new source of global warming pollution — new coal-fired power plants that are being built without any controls on their global warming emissions.
The legislation states: "Effective upon the date of enactment of this Act, no permitting authority shall issue a permit for a proposed new coal-fired electric generating unit under the Clean Air Act, unless the permit requires the unit to use state-of-the-art control technology to capture and permanently sequester carbon dioxide emissions from such unit.
"State-of-the-art control technology" is defined as "The term ‘‘technology that captures not less than 85 percent of the total carbon dioxide produced by the unit on an annual average basis and permanently sequesters that carbon dioxide in a geological formation approved by the Administrator in a manner that prevents its later release into the atmosphere.
In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll of 1,003 U.S. citizens conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.
The authors of the poll reported: "75 percent of Americans –-including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents --would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy --such as wind and solar --and improved home energy-efficiency standards.' Women (80 percent) were more likely than men (70 percent) to support this idea.Support also was higher among college graduates (78 percent) than among those who did not graduate from high school (68 percent).
The exact question posed by the survey was as follows: More than half of power plant-generated electricity comes from coal. Experts say that power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution linked to global warming. There are plans tobuild more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the next several years. Would you support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe and renewable energy –such as wind and solar –and improved home energy-efficiency standards? Would you say definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no, or don't know.
The results were as follows:
In October, 2007, fifteen groups led by Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) called for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, with no exception for plants sequestering carbon. The groups included Save Our Cumberland Mountains (Tennessee); Ohio Valley Environmental Council (West Virginia); Cook Inlet Keeper (Alaska); Christians for the Mountains (West Virginia); Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Civil Society Institute (Massachusetts); Clean Power Now (Massachusetts); Indigenous Environmental Network (Minnesota); Castle Mountain Coalition (Alaska); Citizens Action Coalition (Indiana); Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment (West Virginia); Appalachian Voices (NC); and Rhode Island Wind Alliance (Rhode Island).
If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.||| Al Gore at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting
In May, 2008, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two lawyers at the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote a public letter opposing cap-and-trade solutions to greenhouse gas emissions and supporting a federal moratorium on new coal plants that don't sequester their carbon dioxide emissions. The letter, "Urgent Plea for Enactment of Carbon Fees and Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants without Carbon Sequestration," was written in their capacity as citizens rather than in their capacity as EPA employees.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel's voluntary decision to shut down two coal-fired power plants in the state and building one of the world's largest utility-scale solar power plants and adding 850 megawatts of wind energy to its system .
Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, asked the state's public service commission for approval to convert the coal-fired Plant Mitchell to run on wood fuel. If approved, the retrofit will begin in 2011 and the biomass plant will start operating in mid-2012. The 96-MW biomass plant will run on surplus wood from suppliers within a 100-mile radius of the plant, which is located near Albany, Georgia.
Coal-fired power plant in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, that formerly provided electricity to a sugar mill is now being converted into a 24-megawatt (MW) biomass power plant. MMA Renewable Ventures is financing the conversion and will operate the new plant, which will be called the Hū Honua Bioenergy Facility . Located about 8 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, the facility will draw on residual wood from the local timber industry and other biomass wastes to produce enough power for about 18,000 homes, meeting up to 10% of the Big Island's electricity needs.
Companies are also building new power plants designed to run on biomass.