Coal-fired Power near Tumbler Ridge

There has been an announcement that a coal-fired plant is scheduled for construction between Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge called the AES Wapiti project. When I asked some TR residents for their opinion, invariably the first comment was ?well I don?t know much about it? With that in mind I would like to provide some information on the subject.

There are three technologies to convert coal to electricity in order of cleanliness:

1. Pulverized Coal Combustion (PCC) – Grinding the coal into a fine powder that is burned to create steam for a turbine. 2. Fluidized Bed Combustion (FBC) ? same as PCC except the powder is suspended in hot air and usually mixed with powdered limestone 3. Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) ? coal is converted into a synthetic gas which is burned like natural gas.

The AES Wapiti project will use the FBC process. Costs go up as the process gets cleaner; however, research has estimated that IGCC produces 73% less toxic emissions than PCC. By their own estimates Wapiti will release one megaton of CO2 per year into the atmosphere. Over the life of the project 40 megatons of C02 will be released.

The state of Montana holds 8% of the world?s coal reserves, an equivalent to 240 billion barrels of oil. This fact, however, does not restrict Governor Schweitzer from stating his opinions. At a coal conference he stood before the audience, held up a chunk of coal, and warned: ?You are the people who represent the companies who will decide whether I?m holding up the future of energy or the past. Take a look at all the other people sitting at your table. You know who you see? You see the last remaining people on the planet who don?t believe CO2 is a problem. The only way you will make this the energy of the future is to recognize C02 as a problem and that you have to be part of the solution.? The thrust of his message was to encourage investment into cleaner burning processes. This can have an economic benefit as better methods can be marketed around the world for profit, an idea close to any businessman?s heart. Carbon capture is a promising technology in the energy sector but it is very difficult and expensive with PCC and once perfected, a retrofit would be impossible. IGCC plants have the best likelihood of success.

This past week the federal government announced an initiative to provide $230M in funding research and development into clean energy and this includes the burning of coal. Here is an opportunity for the provincial government to seize the initiative and invest in this type of development rather than accepting less than the best technology available to us. The IGCC is the next generation with 14 plants being developed in the USA and 10 in current operation in Europe and another 4 in other parts of the world. Because of the added costs, government support is usually required, but it is worth it.

If we must have a plant then why does it not use the best technology available to us? Power plants such as Sumas 2 near Abbotsford and Duke Point near Naniamo were not allowed to proceed because of their potential air quality problems; and these were gas-fired plants which are twice as clean as IGCC. Tumbler Ridge and Dawson Creek should be afforded the same consideration.

One of Gordon Campbell?s goals was ?to lead the world in sustainable environmental management, with the best air and water quality, bar none? This goal is not possible with the current proposed plant. Here is an opportunity to lead the way by stepping up with the best technology available with the chance of getting better. Why couldn?t we lead the world with an IGCC carbon capture system? If we don?t start to work towards that goal now then it will always be too expensive to do and will forever be out of our reach, or, someone else will succeed and become rich.

There was an announcement this week that the Alberta government missed the opportunity to lead the world in clean technology in the tar sands. They failed to act when the best chance for success existed. I see this as an outstanding opportunity to lead the industry.

Tumbler Ridge has been known for its many ?Firsts?. Let us be the first to have an IGCC plant in Canada. Why not urge your government for the best we can get?

There will be a meeting at the Community Centre 25 January at 7pm to discuss the opportunities. This meeting will be hosted by the Pembina Institute from Alberta, and BCSEA (The BCs Sustainable Energy Association) whose goal is to study energy and sustainability. They will explain the three coal-fired processes and will be available for a question and answer period regarding this technology. For more information on the Pembina Institute please visit www.pembina.org

When asked by Tumbler Ridge News, ?Does the District of Tumbler Ridge have a say in what happens with this coal generation plant?? the answer is no. Provincial Government Bill 30 prevents municipal governments from being directly involved in the approval process with BC Hydro related initiatives. Therefore any opposition to these projects must be initiated by the public.