20071121 duke energy plant 18
Duke Energy's Gibson Station in Gibson County, Ind., is the company's largest power plant. It's coal-fired and co-owned by Wabash Valley Power Association and Indiana Municipal Power Agency. - 


BOB MOON: Technology that gives coal a cleaner name is one step closer to reality this week. Indiana regulators have given Duke Energy the green light to build what would become the world's first large scale coal gasification power plant. With one condition: They have to submit a plan to capture the C-O 2 emissions it produces and store them underground. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.

SAM EATON: It's called carbon sequestration. Most climate experts say coal's future is in jeopardy without this technology. The potential for a U.S. cap on CO2 emissions already has utilities cancelling plans to build dozens of new conventional coal plants. Kurt Waltzer with the Clean Air Task Force says that's why Duke Energy's coal gasification plant is so important. It would turn coal into gas for generating electricity instead of just burning it outright. And he says that process helps coal become a cleaner energy source.

KURT WALTZER: With a coal gasification plant the volume of gas is much lower so it's easier to pull the CO2 emissions out. And in places like the Midwest you have enormous potential to store the CO2 in deep geologic formations.

But for consumer watchdog groups there's a big difference between that "potential" and a sure thing. David Menzer is with Indiana's Citizens Action Coalition. He says carbon sequestration is still largely unproven, not to mention expensive. And he questions why Indiana ratepayers, not Duke shareholders, are being asked to foot the $2 billion bill.

DAVID MENZER: We're essentially underwriting the risk as ratepayers by giving them the ability to collect for construction work and progress before the plant even produces one KW of energy.

Menzer says investing in energy efficiency is far cheaper. But clean coal supporters say that leaves one nagging question. What technology will ultimately replace all the existing coal plants that spew about a third of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions?

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam