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Coal plant would be 'waste of money'

Jan 10, 2008 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Dave DeWitte The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

One of the world's top climate scientists says a new coal-fired power plant planned for Marshalltown would be a waste of money because it will soon be necessary to close such coal-burning facilities to save the earth's climate.

James Hansen, an Iowa native who heads NASA's Goddard Space Center in the Manhattan borough of New York, is expected to testify as a private citizen before the Iowa Utilities Board next week in opposition to Alliant Energy's proposed Marshalltown power plant.

"It would be a tremendous waste of money to put money into coal-fired power plants at this time, because it has become clear that we're going to need to phase out coal use where it is not possible to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide," Hansen said.

Coal plants being constructed now will never be able to fill out their useful lives because the government will be forced to regulate them out of existence, Hansen said.

Alliant Energy has said that it will design the 600-megawatt Marshalltown plant so that carbon sequestration technology can be installed at a later date. The total cost of the plant, shared by Alliant and other participants, will be about $1.5 billion.

Carbon sequestration separates carbon gases from the plant's emissions and stores or "sequesters" them through techniques such as injection into underground geologic formations.

But Hansen said the cost of carbon sequestration will be so high that it will make the proposed new Alliant plant economically unfeasible. While utilities planning coal-fired plants say they will add carbon sequestration when the technology improves, they would not build the plants if they were required to fully commit to begin sequestering carbon at a specific date, Hansen claimed.

Alliant Energy spokesman Ryan Stensland said the new power plant's supercritical boiler will be "perhaps the most efficient coal-fired generating unit ever built in Iowa." He said Alliant would not be designing the plant for carbon sequestration if it had no plans to use that capability.

In addition to those features, Stensland said the power plant would incorporate hybrid technology capable of burning renewable fuels such as switch grass with coal.

Hansen said power companies that are trying to build new coal generation plants now are ignoring important scientific findings that will soon be undeniable.

Hansen said he is using his annual leave time to speak as a private citizen in Iowa at his own expense. He has been asked to speak by a coalition including Cedar Rapids-based environmental law center Plains Justice.

The impact of global warming on Iowa will be less than on some regions, Hansen said, but will still involve increased frequency of flooding and droughts, and higher temperatures. All states will bear the costs of coastal flooding and species extinction elsewhere, he said.

Hansen will speak briefly at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Old Brick, 26 E. Market St., Iowa City, and will make a longer presentation at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at Room 104 of the Iowa Advanced Technology Labs next to the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus.

Contact the writer: (319) 398-8317 or david.dewitte@ gazettecommunications.com