In early February to little fanfare, President Obama created a task force on Carbon Capture and Storage. The purpose? A strategy to speed up clean coal development. The President hopes to have five to 10 commercial clean coal demonstration projects up and going by 2016. If you are the type that has thought clean coal is an oxymoron, it is enlightening to hear Obama's unscripted comments on clean coal (and also solar and wind) at a recent Gen44 event. In an exchange with 1sky organizer and activist Gillian Caldwell, President Obama seems genuinely convinced of the merits of clean coal. The audio is poor, so here's a transcript:
"It's got to be renewable energy. No more clean coal. [Inaudible: It's a unicorn. It doesn't exist.]"
"No, no, no... I disagree with you. I disagree with you. I'm going to defend... We are not going to get all our energy from wind and solar in the next 20 years..."
Caldwell: "Can't the market do it? Can't the market make the investment? [Inaudible: It's hundreds of billions (of dollars we'd be investing in "clean coal" in the House version of the bill)]."
Obama: "They can't do it. The technology's not there. I've got a nuclear physicist as my Department of Energy who cares more about climate change than anything and he will tell you you can't get it done just through that - so you've got to have a transition period and do all this other stuff. Don't be stubborn about it!
"It's about getting the votes [inaudible: in Congress isn't it?]"
"This is not a votes matter, This is a technological matter. It really is. I mean, I've looked at it."
"We're running a national campaign on it and people are really upset about this..."
"I know, look. I know everybody's... you know, if I could do it all with wind and solar I would! We can't. Not yet. But we can ramp it up. That's what we're working on."
O.K., Obama says he believes clean coal and CCS is part of "all this other stuff" we have to do while making a transition to clean energy. Meanwhile, with five more years of task force work and demonstration projects put a dent in coal's monstrously large climate footprint? Here's what a Department of Energy roadmap published in 2007 and quoted recently at Solve Climate had to say:
"As a technology and a research discipline, carbon sequestration is in its infancy."
Perhaps Obama's plans for investment will take clean coal to teenagerhood. And perhaps it won't be as expensive as some people are saying, while if clean coal becomes a required technology, renewables will start to look better and better.
Here's a link to the memorandum on A Comprehensive Federal Strategy on Carbon Capture and Storage.