How to replace coal

President Barack Obama has announced that during his second term he will emphasize his plan to limit global warming, as detailed in his climate speech of June 25. There he proposed a combination of more natural gas and renewables like wind and solar energy to replace coal-burning, electric power generation — our biggest source of carbon emissions. He ignored nuclear energy, which provides two thirds of our carbon-free electric power.

The Obama administration has cancelled funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility. Concerns about nuclear waste storage are a major reason for the slowdown in new nuclear capacity for the U.S., China, India and Saudi Arabia, who are actively building new nuclear plants.

Fracking technology has made natural gas plentiful and relatively cheap today at more than $4 per thousand cubic feet. There is future price risk with natural gas as those fracking wells are short-lived and expensive. A few years ago natural gas was at triple current prices. Wind and solar energy are intermittent and require direct subsidies to be competitive. They have not replaced a fossil fuel base load electric plant anywhere on earth.

A Bentek Energy study of Xcel Energy’s Colorado operation showed that renewables caused fossil fuel plants to operate in start-and-stop fashion to balance intermittent wind energy. This caused fuel waste, increased carbon emissions and stressed machinery.

Electric demand peaks on these muggy summer evenings when all ACs run, and there isn’t a “breath of air.” That’s when those reliable base load nuclear plants at Prairie Island and Monticello run round the clock.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has described the Obama plan as a “war on coal.” Waging such a war when you discourage the best technology with the capacity to replace coal seems to make little sense.