Niagara Applies For A Coal Hand-Out


We recently wrote about excess hydropower from Niagara falls, and speculated on the prospects of having green businesses be attracted to the Buffalo area to take advantage of the the Falls' renewable energy output. Ironically, there now seems to be a local movement in favor generating electricity thereabouts with coal. In Monday's Buffalo News we read that that the prospect of 'free money' from the Federal Government is making "clean coal" power generation look attractive to some local officials. In spite of the report of un-used hydropower in the local area, a Niagara County comissioner has placed a resolution on the County Board agenda which "...calls on Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, a Buffalo-based regional organization that promotes new businesses, "to assist Niagara County and Choose Niagara Now in using all their expertise to bring this clean coal plant and all of its jobs to Niagara County."" Buffalo News also reports that "AES Corp. is bidding in a statewide competition to win the $1 billion plant for its property in Somerset. Choose Niagara Now, a special lobbying group [is] boosting AES' bid..." Of all the places that might request a billion dollar subsidy for a coal fired plant, this would be about the last place we'd expect to raise their hand, so to speak. Perhaps this is an illustration (in a national sense) of what Amory Lovins termed a "perverse governmental incentive" for energy management. Reminds us, a bit, of making a big Homeland Security grant to some small town fire department in an agricultural region.In the interest of keeping things constructive, and, absent any obvious irony, here's a an alternative idea.

Ask the US Department of Energy for the project money, with the caveat that it be used for a far better purpose. In Phase I, use the billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies that had been allocated for a "clean coal" plant, to instead upgrade the existing Niagara hydro-facities, installing higher efficiency turbines with enlarged flow capacities. Use any leftovers from Phase I to plan, engineer,and begin work on a Phase II, for the purpose of greatly expanding the Falls' total hydroelectric generation capacity, diverting all the water that normally goes over Niagara Falls into a new hydro complex for most of the year. Because tourist season is late spring through early fall, that would leave most of the year to crank out vast amounts of additional carbon neutral power without losing any tourism business. The Canadians might complain anyway, but we have a solution.

Offer a portion of the new capacity to Canadian utilities, for free, and another portion, for free, to any business which will locate or expand in the Western NY State service area, for a pre-agreed to period. Then sweeten the green pot even further with an offer of free electricity, for as long as the Niagara River flows, to any manufacturer of plug-in hybrid, or electric vehicles that builds a plant in the area, as well as to their customers while they use an electric or plug in hybrid within the service area.

If, after all that, there is any excess capacity, and we think there probably would be, export it at market rates and use some of the profits to execute carbon trades, plant trees, upgrade pollution controls at existing coal fired boilers, and so on.

Image credit/descriptor: World Coal Institute via BBC News, Clean Coal Technology (CCT) Schematic Diagram

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