The United States Clean Power Plan is a tool to drive the conversion of coal plants to natural gas. Not because of potential environmental gains, but to bolster the U.S. oil and gas industry and the country’s energy self-sufficiency. This defensive strategy is being financed off the back of the U.S. power industry and the U.S. rate payer. Much like the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline, decisions that are economic are being framed as environmental decisions. This is likely a short term initiative as America’s oil self-sufficiency may be a fallacy. The IEA's forecasts show that US oil production will peak at about 11 million barrels per day (mb/d) sometime before 2020, before declining thereafter.
A publication titled, "A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas" is one of several studies showing that natural gas has essentially the same GHG footprint as coal. This is but one of a number of peer reviewed papers that discusses the extensive greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas. Conversion from coal to natural gas is not a GHG solution.
What is clear is that natural gas will be the next target of regulatory agencies at some point. The conversation really isn’t specific to coal, the conversation continues to revolve, and evolve, around the utilization of fossil fuels as a primary source of energy for manufacturers and utilities.
Making a meaningful reduction in GHGs is easier from coal plants than from natural gas plants. A large portion of the GHG emissions from natural gas occur before combustion of natural gas, while they occur in a concentrated fashion after combustion for coal. The higher flows and lower concentration of natural gas plants make CO2 capture harder. (Fixing coal now will be easier than fixing a converted natural gas fleet later).
All current post-combustion CO2 capture solutions are cost prohibitive due to their high energy costs (average negative energy penalties are in the 25 percent range).
Interesting uses / treatment for CO2 being developed, beyond enhanced oil recovery and sequestration, cannot be implemented until the cost of capture is dealt with.
The primary goal of the power industry should be to find a way to capture CO2 inexpensively and then convert it to useful solutions. This is more easily accomplished with coal than natural gas.
Other countries in the world do not have the natural gas reserves of the U.S. and will have to find solutions for coal GHGs. While they will find them and preserve their traditional power businesses, the U.S. power industry would appear to be taking the path of least resistance, converting to gas over time until natural gas is on the chopping block. They have chosen a slow death.
Billions have been spent on amine solutions and have been shown to be too costly.