Clean Coal Is a Myth

Take note: The U.S. is burning coal cleanly. This country’s air is cleaner now than in any other time over the past 50 years. New technology, such as scrubbers, is removing sulfur dioxide emissions, and this cleaner coal is being used to bring electricity to 50% of American homes.

But – and yes, it’s a big but – carbon dioxide is still a problem. “There’s no mass, widely available technology today to capture CO2,” Wisconsin Energy CEO Gale Klappa told Mad Money on Friday, and he thinks we’re still 10 to 12 years away from that.

Klappa, who also serves as chairman and president, did say, however, that his company is working on a way to capture those CO2 emissions. The plan is to use chilled ammonia, and in the lab the process is grabbing as much as 90% of the carbon dioxide emitted. The problem, though, is that the actually application is capturing only 1% of CO2 emissions when tested at one of Wisconsin Energy’s cleanest coal plants.

But Klappa isn’t giving up. His firm is “working the bugs out,” and he thinks the technology “still has real potential.”

These CO2 emissions have been big news lately, as President Obama has unveiled his cap-and-trade plan to curb them. Critics say the plan could create more problems than it solves, and Klappa agreed. He called it “hugely expensive” and cited research that showed consumers may pay up to 56% more for their electricity if cap-and-trade is adopted. Companies such as WEC who deal in coal would be burdened with what is essentially a carbon tax, and they’d have no choice but to pass it on to their customers.

The early years of Obama’s plan are “way, way too draconian,” Klappa said. He echoed what others in the energy business have been calling for, which is a slow rollout that would allow WEC and its peers to meet Obama’s requirements over time. That would give them the chance to adjust while at the same time keep costs low for the consumer.

What does Cramer think? Wisconsin Energy is “perhaps the most forward-looking energy company in the country,” he said, and it failed so far to solve this problem. So “the clean coal situation is still not viable.”

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