Champions of coal say it can be made more environmentally friendly, but refined coal regularly fails to deliver on those promises, it’s actually worse.
The Nitrogen Oxide emission rate at a power plant in Sherrills Ford, NC, was from 33 to 76 percent higher between 2012 to 2014 than in 2011, the year the plant started burning refined coal. The plant also discovered some of the chemicals used to refine the coal had reached a nearby waterways, raising levels of carcinogens in the water supply for more than a million people.
Because of the findings the company stopped using refined coal at the plants in May 2015. Bromide levels in the region’s drinking water dropped sharply several months later.
The experience reflects a fundamental problem with the U.S. clean coal incentive program. Refined coal shows few signs of reducing Nitrogen Oxide emissions as intended, and may have even worse side effects, such as leaching toxins into public water systems people rely on.
Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show American power plants are on track to burn about 160 million tons of “clean coal” this year. Most of the plants getting the subsidy failed to reduce emissions by the 20 percent threshold required under the “clean coal” policy.
Of 56 plants that burned refined coal, 22 had higher emissions than while using raw coal. As a group, refined coal burning power plants underperformed the rest of the industry in cutting emissions of nitrogen oxide.
According to research there does not seem to be anything appropriately called “clean coal” other than as a tax credit investment for billionaires.