Energy research institution debunks clean coal myth, opposes global clean coal alliance

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), an independent, think-do institution engaged in issues of energy, environment, and development in the Philippines, expressed opposition to theconvening of a global clean coal alliance—a proposal made by the US Delegation to the Conference of Parties (COP23).

According to CEED Research, Policy and Advocacy Officer Arvin Buenaagua, “coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Its consumption emits sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and other particulate matters. It is a huge contributor to smogs, air pollution, and acid rain, which in turn causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Calling it clean is oxymoronic.”

The myth of “clean coal” is premised on the development of technologies that would supposedly reduce harmful emissions and their escape into the atmosphere. One of these technologies is the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which aims to capturecarbon dioxideemissions and subsequently store themin underground saline aquifers or depleted oil and gas fields.

However, these technologies come at exorbitant costs, and with a dismal track record. “According to the Global CCS Institute, it is estimated that $100 billion annually will be spent to develop CCS technologies. Retrofitting these to older coal plants would most likely cost even more,” claims CEED Legal Officer Avril De Torres.

“The recent suspension of operations of the Kemper County plant in Mississipishows that “cleancoal” technologies are decades far from being fully developed and widely deployed. The Kemper County plant was envisioned to be a flagship, cutting-edge project that would pioneer coal gasification and CCS technologies. And yet, after years of delay and billions spent over its projected budget, Kemper County plant’s operationslasted for only 200 days. Operations wereabruptly suspended due to issues with its “clean coal” technologies,” added De Torres.

Additionally, a recent research conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities predicts the imminent stranding of all existing and future coal plants in the Philippines. The stranding of coal plants will inevitably include “clean coal” technologies with it.

In the context of the urgent global climate action ushered in by the Paris Agreement, and the continuous drastic decrease in the cost of renewable energy, any talks of forming a global clean coal alliance is misplaced and illogical.

A new research from Morgan Stanley already states that numerous key markets have reached an inflection point, where renewables will become the cheapest form of energy in less than three years. According to De Torres, the Philippines is already experiencing a drastic drop in the cost of renewables. “Just two months ago, a solar companyentered into a power supply agreement with Meralco, the biggest distribution utility company in the country, at Php 2.99 kWh. This is a rate that is much lower than the average coal electricity production price of coal plants in the pipeline atPhp 3.66 kWh,” she explained.

According to government data,the Philippines has a vast untapped RE potential at 250,000 MW. If properly utilized, the country is set to be an RE leader in Southeast Asia.Thus, the claim that the Philippines has no choice but to generate electricity from coal cannot be farther from the truth.

“Coal is coming to its end.There is no need to further invest in and develop technologies that would “clean” an obsolete and dirty energy. Any talks of alliance should be focused on decarbonization and the advancement of renewables” concludes Buenaagua.

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