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Update on a “clean coal” dream

Post by David Seago on March 29, 2008 at 5:00 am with No Comments »
March 29, 2008 5:00 am

In September, I wrote an Insight cover article about a University Place entrepreneur, Bob Divers, who hopes to develop a revolutionary $2.2 billion "clean" coal-fueled power plant near Wallula in Walla Walla County.

The project has hit a couple snags, but nothing fatal. Here’s an update:

Hopes for the power plant depend on the outcome of test drilling to prove that liquid CO2 injected thousands of feet deep in basalt formations will mineralize, becoming a solid safely trapped in the earth.

Researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland were to supervise the test drilling earlier this year on Port of Walla Walla property near Wallula. But, as geophysicist Pete McGrail reports:

A number of issues have come up. Because drillers are in very high demand for oil & gas work, we were required to close on a contract yesterday to maintain our place in line. It has taken longer than we expected to process the data we collected from the seismic survey that was done in December and we need that information before proceeding with drilling. Hence, we had to release the driller.

We also need to close a contractual land use agreement with the Port of Walla Walla and that could not be done in time either. So, we had to reluctantly face reality and accept the delay. Next window is September according to information we have at the moment.

The test-drilling project also raised concerns among Walla Walla port commissioners, who said they’re worried about potential liability if things don’t go right. A few local residents also told the commissioners they fear the project could lead to a "dirty" coal power plant at the site.

Divers, a University Place resident, told me in September that the power plant, called the Wallula Energy Resource Center, would proceed only if the test proves that sequestration works. The developers would still have to get approval from the state Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council. As a political matter, no coal-fired plant that releases emissions in the atmosphere has a chance of being approved.

The test-drilling delay prompted Divers’ company to temporarily withdraw its site license application. Otherwise the backers would have to keep paying $10,000 to $15,000 monthly charges to the state while its application was pending.

Power utilities across the country have been cancelling plans for new coal-burning power plants left and right. Good thing, too. But coal is America’s most abundant energy resource. If a clean way to tap it can be found, it would go a long way toward reducing greenhouse emissions not only in the U.S. but also in fast-developing nations like China and India.

So we all have good reason to hope Pete McGrail’s sequestration experiment works.

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