HOUSTON The United States faces an electricity
crisis if it eschews coal-fired power plants on its way to a
low-carbon economy, said the chief executive of American
Electric Power, one of the nation's biggest utilities.
Michael Morris of AEP said that he fears the United States
will rely on natural gas plants too heavily if it drastically
cuts burning coal to make electricity.
"We will find ourselves in a classic electric shortage and
we will probably pursue the line that this country usually
follows when it faces a shortage and come up with some terribly
ill-conceived answers," if construction of coal-fired power
plants continues to be curtailed, Morris said.
Within five years to a decade, heavy industrial users will
face involuntary power cuts unless more coal plants that emit
less carbon dioxide (CO2) come on line, said Morris, speaking
to energy executives at the week-long CERA conference in
U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph
Kelliher, also speaking at the CERA conference on Friday, said
that 54 percent of coal-fired power plants ordered since 2000
have been canceled in the past two years.
Coal-fired power plants produce about 40 percent of U.S.
greenhouse gas emissions.
A so-called "dash to gas" in building power plants that
burn natural gas "will lead us to a very, very reckless
conclusion on the cost of energy as we go forward," said
"If we don't find a way inside of the carbon challenge to
retrofit the existing coal fleet, we will find ourselves in a
huge dilemma," Morris said. "You simply can't pare off plant
after plant after plant and have the U.S. economy leap forward
in any way, shape or form."
Morris said that "clean coal" plants are the future of
peaking power plants because the U.S. has abundant supply.
AEP is working to build a large, integrated gasification
combined cycle (IGCC) plant in Ohio -- which is a new
technology that seeks to capture CO2 emissions -- and is
involved in a carbon sequestration project in West Virginia.
AEP says 73 percent of its power plants burn coal, while 16
percent burn natural gas and nuclear plants make up 8 percent
of its generation capacity. About 3 percent are renewable power
plants like wind and hydro.
AEP, based in Columbus, Ohio, delivers electricity to 5
million customers in 11 states and has power plants that can
generate 38,000 megawatts. A megawatt in its service area can
serve about 750 homes.
Morris said the U.S. generation supply should be increased
primarily by coal-fired and nuclear power plants because they
are around-the-clock "baseload" generating units. He said it
will take until 2020 or so to have a significant amount of
No new licenses to build a nuclear power plant have been
granted in three decades, and four applications have been filed
with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission since last fall.
Morris said the likelihood of legal challenges will keep
AEP from being in the "first wave" of what some see as a coming
nuclear renaissance. The NRC says it takes about four years for
it to review a license before one can be granted.
Coal power plants make half of the electricity used in the
United States, and nuclear plants make about 20 percent.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)