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The Final Word by Rory Ryan

Sometimes, the simplest solution is also is a good solution.

And, yes, before you can even think it, I do like simple solutions. Draw your own conclusions.

This week, Jim Thompson mentions that the present U.S. administration is "solidly focused on shutting down coal-powered boilers used for any purpose. Your mill likely does not have a coal-fired boiler, but if it does, it is in the cross-hairs of the EPA."

That does seem to be the presidential preference. However, coal does have its supporters, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia. In a column earlier this year entitled "The facts about coal," Senator Manchin wrote: "…The Obama Administration’s global climate plan is rooted in provisions aimed at regulating the coal industry out of existence. The Obama administration’s plan is short-sighted, ignoring the fact that coal is America’s most abundant, most reliable and most affordable source of energy, and it will be for decades to come.

"Coal is responsible for 37.4 percent of all the electricity generated in the United States today, more than any other source of energy. And the Department of Energy projects it will remain the dominant fuel for electricity generation in our country at least through 2040. Despite the administration’s attempt to kill it, coal is critical to meeting the future energy needs of America. In other words, we can’t make it without coal."

Now, back to that simple solution to reduce carbon emissions from coal-powered plants.

A Nov. 4 New York Times report by Matthew Wald notes that using modest amounts of wood could be a relatively quick way to phase in renewable energy.

"Even as the Environmental Protection Agency considers requiring existing coal-fired power plants to cut their carbon dioxide output, some utilities have started to use a decidedly low-tech additive that accomplishes that goal: wood."

By the way, I consider this a simple solution because it's one that was employed by my father in the 1960s. Our farmhouse was heated with a coal-burning and wood-burning stove. The blend of wood and coal provided excellent heat and fewer emissions than burning coal alone.

"Minnesota Power, which once generated almost all of its power from coal and is now trying to convert to one-third renewables and one-third natural gas, found that co-firing with wood was a quick way to move an old plant partly to the renewable category," Mr. Wald reports.

Since 2005, Minnesota Power has invested more than $350 million at its coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions and improve efficiency.

According to its website, Minnesota Power is optimizing the use of biomass (wood waste) and reducing dependence on coal at the Hibbard Renewable and Rapids Energy Centers. Mercury concentrations in biomass are lower than in coal.

“We’re finding an emissions improvement benefit, and an economic benefit,” because the wood is cheaper than coal, said Allan S. Rudeck Jr., Minnesota Power’s vice president for strategy and planning.

Companies like Minnesota Power are finding that "co-firing will be one of the leading options if the EPA – which recently proposed limits on carbon emissions for new plants – follows through on its plan to develop limits for old ones," Mr. Wald reports.

Rory Ryan is Senior Editor, North American Desk at Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at rory.ryan@taii.com.


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