College Green

Exploring environmental news in Southeast Ohio

Industry executives look at the future of coal in ARC panel

Posted by collegegreenou on October 28, 2009

By Katherine Bercik
For CG News

Representatives from the energy and agriculture industries discussed coal’s future as a source of energy in a panel discussion Tuesday in Baker University Center.

The discussion, titled “Coal and Clean-Energy Production,” was one of many ongoing events for the 2009 Appalachian Regional Commission Conference which is being hosted at Ohio University until Wednesday.

Reducing carbon emissions and carbon sequestration were the two central themes of the discussion.

“As we all know, coal is going to come under increased scrutiny in the future,” said panelist Jerald Fletcher, director of the Natural Resources Analysis Center at West Virginia University. “There’s no question that carbon management is becoming one of the premier questions that our society is facing today.”

Fletcher added that the major question is not how coal affects climate change, but how its continued use will change as more energy companies try to lessen their environmental footprints.

Mark Gray, vice president of engineering services for American Electric Power, discussed the carbon-capture and sequestration technologies that are used at AEP’s Mountaineer plant. Among the devices in use at the plant is an injection system that captures carbon dioxide gas emissions and compresses them into underground wells. Although capturing the emissions saves them from entering the atmosphere, Gray acknowledged that the procedure will likely meet opposition.

“The operation of capturing and injecting CO2 is going to be a national debate. I don’t doubt that,” Gray said. “And it’s going to have local ramifications, regional ramifications and national ramifications.”

Other presenters included Dale Arnold, director of energy services with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and Scott Doron, director of Southern Technology Council for Southern Growth Policies Board, an economic policy think-tank based in North Carolina.

Noting that agriculture and biofuel production are both energy-intensive, Arnold said the major question for the agriculture sector will be how to incorporate more sustainable practices.
Arnold discussed methods of incorporating coal into renewable biomass and increasing the production of feed stocks for biofuel.

Doron addressed the potential economic outlook for the industry. He said industry leaders must be ready to change with the market.

“Regardless of all the conflict and policy debates, I think there’s no doubt that something very important is changing in how we view energy,” Doron said. “What that means, in times of change like that, is the people who invest are the ones who come out ahead later on.”

All of the panelists agreed that coal will continue to play a large role in Appalachia and the rest of the U.S. How that role will change in the future is the harder question to answer.

For a complete schedule of conference events, click here.


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