October 2006 Meeting

Monday, October 9, 2006
6:00 - 7:30 pm

Pellissippi State Technical Community College
10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville
Lamar Alexander Building
Room 223


Coal as a Renewable Energy Partner

Barry K. Thacker, P.E.
Geo/Environmental Associates, Inc.
Knoxville, Tennessee


Despite advances in renewable technologies, oil, natural gas, and coal fuel our economy. Twenty years ago, fossil fuels met 86% of the nations energy demand, the same as today. Fossil fuels can be burned, as needed, to create more energy than is spent mining and processing them.

Renewable energy will remain a dream until it competes with the reliability and energy-efficiency of fossil fuels. Big business and government are not at fault, blame the laws of nature. A partnership with coal makes the dream feasible.

Why should sexy renewable energy partner with coal? The U.S. has 25% of the world reserves of coal and you dance with the date you bring to the prom. One approach is to build wind turbine farms on reclaimed mine sites to generate electricity, so coal is available as feedstock for producing liquid fuel for vehicles. How do we overcome the limitations of wind power to generate electricity on demand? Use existing pumped-storage technology.

Utilities already use pumped-storage plants where water is pumped to reservoirs on mountain tops using electricity generated when demand is low. Water is then released to generate electricity during times of peak demand. Although such systems use more energy than can be generated, they help utilities balance on-time supply and demand of electricity.

Would wind turbine, pumped-storage, and coal-to-liquid fuel production systems be reliable and energy-efficient? Yes, and they will have high cost and impact the environment. As world oil reserves deplete, all energy sources will have higher cost and everything we do impacts the environment.

How can the cost of such systems become more competitive with conventional energy today? Combine new construction with surface coal mining. Money generated from mining the coal will offset site preparation costs. As photovoltaic technologies advance, wind farms on reclaimed mine sites will be ideal locations to install the next generation of solar energy panels. Jobs created in coal-field communities to operate and maintain such energy systems will last after mining is done.

But how do we address global warming by increasing coal production? The burning of petroleum accounts for 42% of the nations carbon dioxide emissions, whereas coal emits 37%. If renewable energy replaces coal in generating electricity, and coal replaces petroleum in fueling vehicles, carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by as much as 37%.

A national energy strategy that breaks our addiction to oil, creates sustainable coal-field communities, and cuts carbon dioxide emissions is a prudent choice. American coal and know-how, in partnership with renewable energy, can make that dream work.


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