Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sierra Club cuddles up to coal

Some people never learn.

How does one of the country’s biggest environmental groups decide to partner with one of the country's biggest coal-burning utilities?
That isn't the question people familiar with the Sierra Club's history would ask. From a Time report
...between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
How do they decide to partner up?

Money, I presume.

Brune traveled to Columbus for a fundraiser this week after introducing an initiative to encourage Cleveland to rely on 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
...“Our goal is to decarbonize the electric sector, replace coal plants with clean energy by the end of 2030. So we will enter into any agreement that will accelerate progress toward that goal.”
...American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) is asking Ohio energy regulators to guarantee income on some of its power plants. If approved in March, AEP says it would keep open the coal plants that would otherwise be sold or shuttered. In return for the Sierra Club's sign-on, AEP agreed to build 900 megawatts of wind and solar projects in the state.
The Sierra Club is partnering to bring the Energiewende to Ohio.

The sequence of the Sierra Club's partnerships may indicate a growing understanding that coal may be a better partner for variable intermittent generators (wind and solar) than natural gas is, and increased recognition that under current greenhouse gas accounting the most economical choices are replacing coal with gas, or adding wind and solar while keeping aging coal plants.

Here is a description of the drivers of system cost elements when integrating variable intermittent generation, from Ueckerdt, Falko, Lion Hirth, Gunnar Luderer & Ottmar Edenhofer (2013): System LCOE: What are the costs of variable renewables? , Energy 63, 61-75:
We find that profile costs make up the largest part of integration costs. Grid reinforcement costs and costs for balancing due to forecast errors are comparably low. Hence, three integration options are in particular important because they reduce profile costs: firstly, adjusting the residual generation capacities to a mix with lower capital cost, secondly, increasing transmission capacity to neighboring power systems reduces integration costs strongly, in particular if those power systems do not develop similar shares of VRE and thirdly, any measure that helps shifting demand or supply in time like demand-side management and long-term storage.
I added the emphasis.

A growing concern, as scientists examine methane leaking, is that emissions from natural gas-fired power plants may not be significantly below emissions from coal-fired power plants. From  Agustin Alonso, Barry W. Brook, Daniel A. Meneley, Jozef Misak, Tom Blees, Jan B. van Erp, Why nuclear energy is essential to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission rates, EPJ Nuclear Sci. Technol. 1, 3 (2015):
Leakages superior to 6% could not be accepted even for time horizons of 100 years. The results clearly indicate that replacing coal-fired with gas-fired plants does not provide any relevant climate reduction unless gas leakage is reduced to less than 2%.
The Sierra Club has some justification in snuggling up to coal for funding after taking funding from the natural gas industry to fight coal, but I don't see a reason to take the Sierra Club seriously.

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