Comment of the day: Why not use coal to power Fairbanks?

Here’s a comment from Andy, who’s wondering why Fairbanks is so intent on LNG when there’s a gargantuan coal deposit right down the road. I know next to nothing about this, and don’t have time today to dig into it. Anybody have thoughts?

Energy is energy, it comes in all sorts of forms. The easiest and cheapest is low cost electricity, which can run everything, including vehicles…The most economical electrical power is obtained from nuclear, which we all know is a no starter. The next in line is coal. We have clean coal technology that produces EPA-approved emissions. Given the fact that Alaska is blessed with a gargantuan amount of low sulfur, high BTU coal, it is a shame that the interior cannot benefit from this. The Healy plant, capable of 175 megawatts ( I think), would produce electricity to power 175,000 homes. That’s a big chunk of Fairbanks.

Take the big bucks going to LNG, and you could get Healy up and running, and build another plant as well. Tie these two plants to a common statewide grid and voila, problem solved. Alaskan coal would be a stable, predictable fuel cost, and provide cheap electricity for generations. Why we continue to pump money into oddball energy schemes is bizarre.

Walker et al need to get serious about an energy plan and stop pussyfooting around with these fantasies. Clean coal technology for those on the grid, and LNG for the bush via barges, makes sense. The plethora of electrical fiefdoms needs to be addressed as well. An energy policy may help that problem as well, and don’t forget to drop the crazy renewable mandate.


13 thoughts on “Comment of the day: Why not use coal to power Fairbanks?

  1. Crude is Rude, Gas is Groovy

    ********THINK HYDROGEN********

    Coal is interesting stuff, but then so is snow, that’s interesting too.

    Coal can be used in a lot of different ways,
    but coal will always be handicapped with the burden of it’s impurities.
    Coal can be pre-processed to an amazing degree,
    making it as useful as oil, but crude shares this filthy handicap too.
    Lump-Coal combustion was always a health hazard struggling to acquire more technology until we now have arrived at Closed Loop Coal Combustion with 100% containment.

    Coalwater-slurry can be a very useful semi-clean product within limits.
    Coal is useful for making Portland Cement, but geopolymers are often better.

    The Arctic Environment is particularly sensitive in many ways to combustion pollution, especially coal burning.
    Combustion pollution from summer wildfires is also a big hazard, but is stupidly accepted as unavoidable..
    IMHO; Alaska’s wasted biomass resource is a huge tragedy.
    Alaska’s love affair with CrudeOil has made everybody ignorant of the many other vital sources of useful energy.
    Looking for a monolithic “one size fits all” energy source for all of Alaska is a fools errand…
    Even LNG has it’s practical limitations, and it’s not as wonderfully efficient as the promotions imply.

    Why do we let our vast biomass resources burn unchecked every summer,
    then engage in the century old midwinter debates about “to Coal or not to Coal”..
    ..while we miserly monetize the hydrocarbons in a most inefficient way ???

    It’s irritating to see folks who work in the oil industry tell every Alaskan except the A-rage Elites that burning coal is good enough for you, and only a few of us are privileged to have access to gas & oil at a reasonable price…
    …while driving around in a fleet-truck burning free-fuel.

    The Heat of Alaskan Hypocrisy is enough to keep me hot all winter !!

  2. Smithtb

    Coal may provide cost effective electricity, but Natural Gas is currently the most affordable way to heat homes – much more so than Diesel, Propane, or Electricity at average rates. All forms of fuel can be relatively efficient for heating purposes, so it comes down to cost. I believe Fairbanks now has limited LNG supply trucked in which is quite expensive, however with a new LNG line it would be feasible to have an expansive Natural Gas distribution system for heating and industry which would be much more affordable than currently available energy in the interior. How it relates to power generation is another story, but typically one cannot burn fossil fuels to make electricity and then convert that electricity into heat more affordably than just burning the fuel at point of use for heating purposes. And in Fairbanks heat is every bit as important as power.

  3. DB

    With the new rules for Clean Power Plants to be implemented next July, the federal government will make it impossible to start up new coal-fired power plants. Governor Parnell’s Administration filed an 88 page comment package protesting the new CPP standards. Alaska’s green house gas standards must be reduced 26% by 2030. Very few have paid attention to this. The Alaska Policy Forum also filed comments on the CPP para 111(d) due to the federal overreach and basic control of the nation’s power grid. The federal government wants to control healthcare, education, and now the electrical grid. Alaskans need to pay attention or we will be merely a colony of Washington, DC.

  4. Lynn Willis

    The Fairbanks plant has to produce both electricity and steam heat. What other energy source could you use to meet that requirement? I lived at the University for several years in the late 70’s and never noticed the presence of the current plant which is about a hundred yards from the lower dorms.

  5. Lauren Morris

    “Clean coal” is an oxymoron. Doesn’t exist. Even China has come to that reality. The last minute must have coal fired plant for the university was a thinly veiled payback to Usibelli for their tax deduction/donations to UAF and nothing more. A project of this size without any measure of cost savings and return on investment would never gotten a hearing anywhere else. Shameful waste of public resources and failure of leadership pure and simple.

  6. Orwell Was An Optimist

    Between environmentalists who don’t want people using any energy and contractors and corporations who benefit from really expensive construction projects with a little seasoning of the state pumping in money there is not enough incentive to product something economically. There are no open markets and no real competition. The subsidies of “green” energy like solar and wind is even worse. They just change who pays. There is excess capacity at the Wainwright and Eielson plants, too bad they can’t be sold and the output added to the grid.

  7. Gilbert

    If UAF’s new coal fired power plant is any indication of how the state evaluates energy economics and viability, the only response I have is ouch. This coal fired power plant will be part of the cost overrun legacy of Ret. General Gambell. It takes a cost-insensitive General to allow this type of fraud and waste. When the university’s board of regents decides that our higher education system is going to be more than a retirement club for military officers, then we can begin a conversation about excellence. Until Pat Gambell and his retired moilitary buddy at UAA are gone, the system is a joke. How unfortunate that the regents don’t take their role more seriously. Let’s hope that Governor Walker won’t re-appoint any of the regents whose terms are expiring. Its time for positive change.

  8. Turbo

    If you want to see government waste, look no further than the new UAF plant. It is over five times more than the average powerplant and it is all being paid by the state. The state doesn’t pay anything toward Utility owned powerplants.
    The up front cost per megawatt is ridiculous when compared to any of the new powerplants in the railbelt.
    UAF $245 million – 23 MW (also heat) = $10.6M/MW
    Chugach $369 million – 200 MW = $1.85M/MW
    ML&P $295 million 120 MW (also steam to heat city water) = $2.45M/MW
    MEA $324 million 171 MW = $1.89M/MW

  9. Jeremy Price

    Maintaining current capacity from coal-fired power generation will be hard enough, let alone increasing capacity, with Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Alaska will have to reduce GHG emissions by 26 percent unless the courts or Congress step in to stop the EPA.

  10. Mark Springer

    Yeah, resistance radiant heating is a total waste of money – if you are heating open air. On the OTHER hand, electric boilers work like a champ and, depending on the kW cost are perfectly competitive with an oil or gas fired boiler.
    I hope as part of the Walker Administration energy plan that coal DOES get a fair shake for interior power. Remember, there are 4 coal plants in Fairbanks (UAF, the old MUS, Ft WW and Eilson). Maybe there is a way to combine that capacity and dispatch it in an efficient manner.

  11. Lynn Willis

    Andy makes a very valid comment. I am waiting to see the viability of the new University Of Alaska Fairbanks coal fired power plant to replace the current coal fired plant. Another significant benefit of coal is that it also generates space heating energy in the form of steam.
    Coal has its’ problems but no method of electrical generation has “zero environmental impact” and improved technology can compensate for some of the problems associated with use of coal. Also, OPEC and others in the energy business don’t make money from coal and share a common interest in the demise of coal with other groups because sometimes “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

  12. Anonymous

    There are significant challenges associated with coal. Permitting a new coal fired plant, as opposed to retrofitting an existing plant, is very difficult. Even if you can get a permit it will take years to go through the process and once the permit finally arrives, it will be litigated.

    Someone with more knowledge should weigh in on why MEA decided against coal for its Eklutna plant.

    Also, “heat by wire” – using electricity for home heating – can be done, but it is my understanding that it is a very inefficient way to heat homes.

    Bottom line, given all of the costs associated with coal, and the ever looming carbon tax, gas is will likely be cheaper. It will certainly be cleaner and easier to permit.

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