Indiana Democratic Party Senator Joe Donnelly has joined Republican Party members of the state Congressional delegation in opposing increased regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Donnelly, GOP Senator Dan Coates and Indiana Republicans in the House of Representatives, sent President Obama a letter last week, requesting that he reject new proposals from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Indiana’s two Democratic Representatives, however, did not sign the letter.
The proposed EPA rules would require new coal-fired electricity generating plants to meet the same green-house gas emissions limits as those for natural gas-fired plants. All new electrical generation facilities will be allowed to pump a maximum of 100 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every megawatt of electricity produced.
The letter from Donnelly and his allies claims that this new limit would increase the costs of generating electricity from both upgraded and new coal plants, which would render them uncompetitive with other electricity generating sources, and put too much of a burden on customers. The letter goes on to promote the benefits of coal including, its ability to meet domestic energy demands for over 100 years, the jobs and income produced by the state’s coal mining sector, the low cost to electricity consumers of coal generated power, the future promise of zero emissions through sequestration of coal emissions, and the threat of economic competition from countries such as China and India that have no such restrictions on burning their cheap coal.
Bennet Brabson, Emeritus Professor of Physics at IU-Bloomington, who specializes in climate and energy joined faculty colleagues at IU and other local notables in government and industry with an interest in energy and the environment, in meeting Senator Donnelly’s energy advisor to discuss power generation. Brabson says generation of electricity from more benign sources is not only more environmentally responsible but of greater economic benefit to the state, and also something that Indiana is ready and able to take on. He first explained Indiana’s potential in bio-fuel production.
“There are three big issues that make Indiana attractive from the point of view of non-coal energy,” said Brabson.
“One of those of course is biofuels. We are a big agricultural state, and we grow crops well, and can grow almost anything well because of our climate at the moment. We are in position to grow any of the biofuels that are being suggested, and those biofuels are ones that former senator Lugar was enthusiastic about as they even included corn. And now we are moving away from corn because it does conflict with food prices and so forth, but even doing corn as biofuel is a step in the right direction — it is a carbon neutral source.”
Bio-fuels are carbon neutral because they absorb as much carbon dioxide in their growth phase as they produce in their power generation stage. These crops, such as switch grass, miscanthus and poplar, grow well in Indiana. He also explained that the use of coal to generate electricity has to stop if humanity has any hope of limiting global warming and catastrophic climate change.
“The second turns out to be the fact that Indiana has already a major center for the establishment of renewable energy in the form of the Lugar Center in Indianapolis,” explained Brabson.
“So the idea that Indiana somehow is unable to or unwilling to do alternative fuels is not correct. Already, there is a huge effort in Indiana done by people who are smart folk here to develop renewable energies, and those certainly include wind and solar which are now coming into their own. Both wind and solar are now less expensive it turns out per kilowatt hour than coal, which is remarkable, but actually the case.”
Professor Brabson explained that the promise of carbon sequestration is weak. Furthermore, one of the states largest user of coal for electricity generation, Duke Energy, has announced that it will not build any more coal plants but instead use natural gas as a source material, because it is both much cheaper and much cleaner than coal, as well as having wind and solar arrays for power generation. He then provided the third reason why Indiana should move to cleaner energy generation.
“The fact that Indiana is a technological state that has done enormous effort for the automobile industry over the years and is enormously clever — illustrated by the Cummins engine and the development of all sorts of parts for automobiles for many years including the building of automobiles themselves — there have been automobiles that been built in this state. The state has also done work on trailers and other electromechnical devices and so it is very good at working on things like windpower development, for example. Which it is now doing. So there are a number of things that include technology, that include brains, that include land. And those three things are critical and are available in Indiana.”
President Obama gave a speech this afternoon which directly addressed greenhouse gasses, and warned that the United States must take action to avoid the future damage of changes in the climate.