Use Natural Gas & Carbon Tax, Forget Carbon Capture, To Help Transition Off Coal: Report


The carbon intensity of coal is so high that CCS technology will only slightly reduce emissions, the report authors say. Photo: Joost J Bakker via flickr.

Another take on the how to transition from coal-based electricity and its huge carbon emissions to low-carbon power sources, this time from two researchers from Rice University: A new paper coming out of Rice's Baker Institute for Public Policy recommends using natural gas to replace the US' coal power plants enabled by a carbon tax as an interim step towards bringing more renewables online. Here are the details:Natural Gas Not Long-Term Solution
After calculating the cost of CO2 emissions from coal-fired electricity, report authors Professor Dagobert Brito and Nobel Prize-winning Professor Emeritus Robert Curl concluded that replacing coal with natural gas "is the most economical way to achieve a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent."

Noting that this transition is already in progress and should be encouraged, Brito and Curl doubt if natural gas supplies are sufficient to meet long-term demand, advocating rapid development of renewable sources of electricity, as well as nuclear power.

Which is actually a pretty run of the mill, conventional wisdom, analysis at this point. But there are some other points worth paying attention to:

Clean Coal Would Only Reduce Emissions 5%
Regarding carbon capture and storage, often touted by the Obama administration as well as the energy industry as a key component of a future low-carbon energy mix, the paper concludes, "Unless or until there is a technological breakthrough in carbon sequestration, the carbon intensity of coal means that 'clean coal' cannot be an important factor in reducing carbon dioxide. Replacing existing coal generation capacity with modern coal generation plants can only reduce total carbon dioxide by 5 percent."

Carbon Tax on Electricity, Separate From Transportation
As for the best way to price carbon emissions and facilitate the transition from coal to lower polluting energy sources, the authors back a straight carbon tax, possibly differentiating between a tax on electricity generation and transportation fuels.

It's a pretty wonky read, but here's the original: Economics of Pricing the Cost of Carbon Dioxide Restrictions in the Production of Electricity [PDF]

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