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Coal Numbers don't Work for Future

Coal Numbers Don’t Work for Future
By Mike Cantrell
(Opinion Editorial published in The Daily Oklahoman September 14, 2007 pg 11A)
I watched with growing interest the Wyoming coal vs. Oklahoma natural gas “war” waged between fine Oklahoma corporate citizens on opposite sides.
I have the unique position of working in both worlds. I have been an oil producer, with some natural gas production, all my business life. I also serve on the Grand River Dam Authority board, which is a low-cost electric provider for a large number of Oklahoma communities, rural electric co-ops and industrial customers. We at GRDA operate coal-fired, as well as, hydro-powered, electric generating plants.
My personal business bias is as an Oklahoma oil producer, whose highest cost is the electricity we use to get our oil out of the ground. So, my primary interest is as an energy consumer who wants electricity as cheaply as I can get it.
At GRDA we operate two coal-fired plants. It is more efficient than natural gas right now. That’s true partly because the coal units were built in the early 80’s when the cost of construction was considerably less than today. Now, however, GRDA is planning for our future generation needs with gas-fired plants.
The uncertainty surrounding potential new governmental mandates on coal-fired generation simply raises the cost of building and operating a coal-fired plant. If you consider the escalating cost of building a new coal plant compared with the declining costs of building a natural gas plant, thanks to serious technological advances in gas turbine efficiency, the economic edge supposedly enjoyed by coal shrinks and, perhaps, disappears entirely. Right now natural gas plants just make more sense.
On top of all that, when you are operating a coal-fired plant you are literally held hostage by the railroads that haul the coal from Wyoming. These rates are going up exponentially, as they have the same monopoly they have had for more than 150 years.
While the cost difference between natural gas and coal-generated power has shrunk significantly, the difference in environmental impact remains dramatic. Right or wrong, CO2 and mercury emissions are being looked upon with disfavor by policy-makers, and coal-fired generation plants put a lot more CO2 and mercury in the air. Environmental sensitivities must be factored into these 21st-century deliberations.
It makes little sense to import Wyoming coal and make Oklahomans breathe dirtier air that comes with coal-fired generation, when we’re exporting our clean-burning natural gas out of state. I just don’t think the coal numbers work for Oklahoma’s future.
This is one Oklahoma consumer who appreciates the Corporation Commission deciding to reject the proposal to raise our electric rates to pay for a new plant of questionable benefit, both short term and long term, economically and environmentally.