Kit Bond, other speakers advocate for coal at MU forum

Thursday, November 15, 2012 | 4:57 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — With high levels of energy demand and high levels of coal in America, speakers at an MU energy forum think coal will be an important part of any energy future.

A crowd of engineers, students and scholars gathered Thursday in the Monsanto Auditorium at the Bond Life Sciences Center for a symposium on energy economics. The symposium included the 2012 Christopher S. "Kit" Bond Lecture, and the former Republican senator was on hand to share his own take.

"I think we heard all sides of it today. ... We are gonna have to use that coal; there is no substitute for it," Bond said. "That's about it, and that's what we addressed today."

Frank Clemente of Penn State, who lectured at the event, discussed the important role that coal plays and will continue to play in the nation's and the world's energy portfolio.

"You cannot power Pittsburgh with a windmill," Clemente said. "In that context, we are gonna need everything, all the time."

He said coal is the leading affordable resource for electricity production and compared the economics of coal to natural gas, a resource which he thinks has been overemphasized in recent policy discussions.

"Coal was the fastest growing fuel in the past 10 years and will be the fastest growing fuel in the next 10 years," he said. 

Clemente cited growing populations, increasing urbanization and demands for increased quality of life as global pressures on national and local energy economics. 

"Urbanization is a rising wave. People are building cities and moving to cities," he said. "To build cities you need communication, steel and cement, and you need coal for all of it."

MU scientist Bill Folk said he was disappointed the panel did not more fully discuss the costs associated with the negative impacts of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"It's one slice of the picture. What was not adequately addressed were some of the biological and ecological costs associated with carbon emissions," Folk said. "There are huge costs not being calculated into the cost of using coal. If you factor in those economic consequences, coal, in fact, is not as cheap of a source of energy."

"There is a scientific consensus that there are increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that this will have negative consequences," he said.  

Trying to move forward

Cerry Klein, an MU engineering professor, spoke about MU's efforts on the energy front.

"A major problem is that policy does not come along until there is a crisis, but you need to have the policy to avoid a crisis," Klein said. "It's a bit of a paradox."

In terms of moving forward to address the energy and environmental problems Klein thinks that universities play an important role.

"We need partnerships between industry, government and universities," he said. "We need to connect basic research with applied research and scale more quickly." 

Floyd Gilzow, director of public affairs for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, highlighted the challenges of dealing with regulations governing energy production.

"What do we as an industry need? We need regulatory certainty. We are dealing with a continually moving target," he said. 

"We have a challenge. The challenge is we need certainty in regulations," he added.

Gilzow pointed to the expensive and inconsistent nature of renewable sources as compared to traditional carbon-based sources.  

"When you build a coal power plant and say it has a capacity of 10 megawatts, you get 10 megawatts," he said. "When you build a wind farm and say it has a capacity of 10 megawatts, you get two megawatts."

After the panel discussions, a member of the audience, Dick Parker, raised his concern that the speakers had not fully emphasized the importance of energy efficiency.

"I don't want electricity, I want lights and a fridge. It can be done with less electricity," Parker said. "We can meet projected growth with efficiency."

Gilzow responded that the transition toward a more efficient energy mix will be difficult and expensive. He said consumers will need to buy new, more efficient refrigerators and build smaller homes.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Mark Foecking November 16, 2012 | 3:41 a.m.

Efficiency is generally a cheaper way to meet energy needs, however, it has limitations. If you're talking about replacing incandescent lights, there is a lot to be gained, but lighting is not the major consumer of energy - heating and cooling is. Moreover, most commercial lighting is already flourescent and fewer gains can be made there.

More efficient refrigeration only gets you 20%, and there's a significant factor of diminishing returns. A ground coupled heat pump gets you a factor of three, but requires electricity. Burning natural gas to get electricity cancels out the increase in efficiency of the heat pump - it's just about as efficient to burn gas in a turbine to make electricity to run the pump as it is to simply burn the gas in an efficient gas furnace. The furnace is a far simpler solution, plus it only costs 1/10th of the prioe of a comparable ground coupled heat pump.

As far as coal, I do believe we need to address CO2 emissions quickly. However, wind and solar, because of their intermittent nature, tend to displace gas and hydro, not coal. My preference would be to replace as much coal as possible with nuclear, and load follow with a combination of wind, solar, and pumped hydro. And of course be as efficient as reasonably possible. But I don't see much support among the general population for sufficient conservation to allow us to shut down our coal plants anytime soon.


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