Sunday, April 9, 2017

Coal Stockpiles and Natural Gas Pipelines

Subtitle: Coal, Natural gas, and Clean Power Plan in the courts.   

The president of a pro-coal industry group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, argues that coal is more reliable than natural gas for power generation, because 80 days of coal can be stockpiled onsite at coal power plants, whereas natural gas must be transported via (unreliable?) pipelines.  The conclusion (he says) is that the Clean Power Plan should not be made into law, nor enforced.  see link to Washington Examiner story of 5/9/2017. 

Somebody bring a screwdriver, because there are more than a few screws loose in this one. 

It is fine for the president of a coal-industry coalition to argue for more use for coal.  That's what he is paid to do.  However, it is laughable to bring that particular argument.  

For instance, how many remember the recent near-miss in coal-powered generation near Chicago, when more ice than usual on the Great Lakes (and much later in the year) prevented coal-carrying ships from delivering their cargo?  see link to April, 2013 article 

And this, the lack of adequate rail capacity, from in October, 2014:  "Part of the reason (for power plants having below-average coal stockpiles) is the country’s oil boom. Moving oil by rail has become so widespread that train backups are making it hard for utilities to receive shipments of coal, which in some cases is leaving power plants critically low on fuel supplies.  . . Coal stocks were inordinately depleted during the unusually long, cold snowy winter in the U.S., which saw an elevated level of electricity demand. Months later, coal-fired power plants are still struggling to replace their coal supplies."

So much for coal being ultra-reliable.  

Now, as to natural gas-fired power plants having their gas supplies curtailed due to pipeline problems.  Yes, that did occur in California when El Paso Corporation (the gas supplier at the time) reduced pipeline flows that resulted in a few power plants not running.  That resulted in a great many lawsuits and Federal investigation, and a huge fine was assessed. 

As I wrote in February, 2016 on SLB, see link "A few years ago, an artificial shortage of natural gas was created in the El Paso Natural Gas Company fiasco, and California experienced electrical shortages, rolling blackouts, and outrageously high electricity prices.   Part of that fiasco was due to the untimely shutdown of a natural gas pipeline that brings natural gas to California from Texas. ( see link to a copy of the settlement agreement between El Paso Corp and various parties.  This describes some, but not all, of the activities that created the electricity shortage.)"

And, there was a time decades ago when a widespread cold period created a natural gas shortage across Texas because the infamous Coastal Corporation of Oscar Wyatt, had over-sold the available natural gas.  Colleges and businesses were shut down so that power plants would have enough gas to keep the grid running.  See 1973 winter gas shortage in Texas. 

But, it is clear that natural gas-fired power plants enjoy a clear advantage in reliability of fuel supply.  Pipelines are not affected by ice on Great Lakes, nor on overcrowding on rail lines.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

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