Duke Energy CEO Questions Viability of ‘Clean’ Coal Technology, Future of Coal
Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, raised questions on Wednesday about the viability of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants underground, and suggested that coal may not even be part of the energy mix by 2050.
“I actually can see a future where coal is not in the equation in 2050,” Rogers told reporters at an event in Washington.
He argued that it’s unlikely that the United States will be able to develop and bring to scale carbon-capture-and-storage – often called “clean coal” technology. “I think there’s no way we can scale in this country,” he said. “It’s more likely that China will develop and bring CCS to scale. I’d like to be China for a day so we can get CCS done. They’re more likely to get it scaled and deployed than we are. We’re going to be buying their technology.”
He also acknowledged that concerns about coal extraction methods like mountaintop removal may make coal more expensive in the near-term. “I’m under incredible pressure on moutaintop mining,” said Rogers. “Most of the coal we use in the southern part of the country is from mountaintop mining. I’m doing the math now and looking to determine my contracts and posing the question to my team, what if we made a policy decision that we’re not going to buy coal as a consequence of mountaintop mining.”
The future of mountaintop removal grew less certain last week as the Obama administration put the breaks on 79 surface mining permits in Appalachia. Rogers also cited concerns about the amount of space and infrastructure that would be needed to make CCS a reality, as well as concerns about the viability of storage. Instead, he says he foresees nuclear rising to become the biggest source of baseload power by 2050, along with solar and “a little wind,” and improved efficiency.
“On the time horizon, I have a higher probability of coming up with the next generation recycling [of nuclear waste], and it’s manageable,” he said. He argued that the spent fuel from the last 40 years from every nuclear power plant in the United States could be put on one football field, stacked seven feet high. But he said his company’s calculations have found that even storage of 20 percent of carbon emissions would require ten cubic miles over the life of a power plant.
“That’s a lot of football fields,” said Rogers.
Duke, the third-largest generator of electricity in the country and a major consumer of coal, made news earlier this month when it dropped out the controversial group Americans for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal front group. Duke is also a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of environmental and business groups formed to build support for a climate bill that has played an active role in shaping legislation this year.
Rogers acknowledged that his take on coal’s future would be “a little provocative.”