Coal Fired Power in Oregon

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Introduction

Coal. The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal. We've got more coal than just about anybody. Half the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal. Today, more than 90 percent of the coal used in America goes to make electricity, according to an NPR documentary on coal. Clean coal advocates call it "America's new green energy."

NPR Radioworks documentary on coal

But coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, causing climate change. It interferes with groundwater and water table levels. It causes acid rain and has a host of other issues.

Global CO2 Emissions

In the Northwest, we're lucky to not be dependent on coal. But it's cheap and plentiful. Coal is not going away.

The coal pie
Normalized energy prices
Coal plants generate power for three cents a kilowatt hour. "Clean coal" isn't a type of coal but a process to clean it up, capturing particulates and green-house emitting carbon dioxide. It's an expensive process.

Clean coal costs 6 cents a kilowatt hour.

Most renewable projects, like wind and solar, are in the range of 15 to 20 cents a kilowatt hour.

In the United States, electricity generation accounts for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the largest of any source.

The Obama administration in March, 2012 has proposed the first-ever limits on heat-trapping pollution from new power plants, ignoring protests from industry and Republicans who have said the regulation will raise electricity prices and kill off coal, the dominant U.S. energy source. But the proposal also fell short of environmentalists' hopes because it goes easier than it could have on coal-fired power, one of the largest sources of the gases blamed for global warming.

"The standard will check the previously uncontrolled amount (of carbon pollution) that power plants ... release into our atmosphere," said Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coal Fired Powerplants

Boardman coal fired power plant
The Boardman coal-fired plant accounts for 15 percent of the power provided by PGE, Oregon's largest electric utility. Pacific Power's share of coal is 40%, according to Washington State's online reports (pdf).

PacifiCorp relies on a fleet of 26 coal-fired boilers at 11 locations in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Colorado, reports the Oregonian. Those plants provide almost two-thirds of the electricity consumed by customers in its six-state territory, and their low-cost output partly explains why Pacific Power's rates in Oregon remain lower than PGE's. But PacifiCorp's reliance on coal plants brings the utility to an expensive juncture, says the Oregonian.

Facebook’s data center in Prineville, Oregon is receiving a “green” backlash since its electric utility, Pacific Power, will likely be getting most of its power from a coal-powered generator in Boardman, Oregon.

Boardman coal field
World Coal Supplies
The company avoided tiered energy rates, due to a formula used by the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that operates dams on the Columbia River and sells the power at cost to utilities. Pacific Power will get most of its electricity from the nearby Boardman coal-fired plant.

No active commercial coal mines remain in Oregon, and the state plans to phase out the coal-fired plant in Boardman by 2020. Still, almost 40 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal-burning power plants.

The Global Coal Market

Coal currently accounts for 28 percent of the world’s energy consumption and generates 42 percent of the world’s electrical supply. The U.S. has 28 percent of global coal reserves, but just nine export terminals — all on the East Coast. The only West Coast options are three terminals in British Columbia, but producers in the coal-rich Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming are thirsty for a new path to meet demand from developing nations like China.

U.S. coal consumption fell nearly 5 percent last year to just over 1 billion short tons, according to data from U.S. Energy Information Administration. It’s expected to fall another 4 percent this year to 962 million tons.

Coal Use in the United States

Global energy use is projected to grow by 53 percent through 2035. Rising Asian demand has prompted coal companies in Montana and Wyoming's Powder River Basin [1] to push hard for Northwest export space.

World Electricity Use


Coal Export Proposals for the Columbia River

Exporting coal to Asia from Oregon is on the front burner[2] since other West Coast facilities are at capacity and the Columbia River region is a straight shot from the Powder River Basin where the coal is, in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming. China has lots of coal - but it's up north, far from most of the industry in southern China.

It's believed to be cheaper to ship coal from Utah and Montana to the West Coast, then across the Pacific Ocean. Last year, China imported 182 million metric tons of coal, surpassing Japan as the world's largest coal importer. That amount is more than the capacity of four existing coal terminals in Alaska and British Columbia and five proposed Pacific Northwest terminals combined — including one proposal in Longview and two near Clatskanie [3].

Planned Coal Export Facilities

Coal Export Proposal for Longview

Millennium Bulk Terminals is planning a major China coal export facility in Longview, Washington[4].

The proposed export facility [5] would ship from 5 to 60 million tons of coal to Asia annually. Five million tones is an amount said to be roughly equal to the amount of coal burned in the whole state of Washington, reports SustainableBusinessOregon [6].

The New York Times reported on Feb 4, 2012 [7], that court records show that leaders of the company planning to build the facility, now called Millennium Bulk Terminals, tried to limit what state officials knew about its long-term goals during the early permitting process last year.

The company’s initial application [8] described a facility that could export up to five million tons of coal per year. But court records show that the company hoped to greatly expand that amount in a second phase to 20 million tons or even 60 million tons annually.

Opposition groups, led by Portland-based Columbia Riverkeeper [9], have already come out against both plans, saying they're worried about the health effects of coal dust in the community and a large number of coal trains clogging vehicle traffic.

Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community [10] formed last year to protest the proposed $600 million coal terminal from Millennium Bulk Terminals at the former Reynolds Metals Co. site west of Longview [11].

Millennium, a subsidiary of Australia's Ambre Energy [12], plans to build the first major U.S. export terminal on the West Coast in Longview [13].

Five Coal Export Terminals

Two Coal Export Proposals for Clatskanie, Oregon's Port Westward

Two giant energy companies have submitted separate proposals to develop coal export facilities at Port Westward [14]. It would be located on the Columbia, north of Clatskanie, Oregon [15], potentially making the Columbia River a major thoroughfare for transporting coal to Asia. If approved, the two projects would add more than 100 jobs.

Clatskanie, Oregon

Kinder Morgon Coal Export from Port Westward

The Kinder Morgan terminal [16] would create 80 family-wage jobs at the port, according to Patrick Trapp, director of the Port of St. Helens [17], which operates Port Westward.

Portwestward, Oregon

Port Westward (above), on the Oregon side, is about 12 miles downriver from the proposed Longview coal export facility.

Kinder Morgan

Kinder Morgan's $150 to $200 million facility at Portwestward would use coal trains (company fact sheet). It would export about 15 million tons of coal annually.

Ambre Energy/Pacific Transloading Coal Export from Port Westward

Loading Coal from Port Westward

A second coal export facility, Pacific Transloading, has also been proposed for the same Port Westard location. It differs from the Kinder Morgan proposal in that it plans to barge coal to Port Westward. It would move coal on barges down the river from Port Morrow[18] in Central Oregon to ships docked at the Port Westward export facility. Pacific Transloading says it would only export about 8 million tons of coal annually.

Pacific Transloading is a subsidiary of Australian coal giant Ambre Energy[19].

Another Ambre subsidiary company, Millennium Bulk Logistics of Longview[20], is also the one hoping to build the Longview coal export, about 12 miles up the river, which would import coal by train (on the Washington side).

Coal Export from Coos Bay

In October 2011, the Port of Coos Bay [21] signed an exclusive negotiating agreement with an anonymous company interested in shipping coal from the port (document).

Coos Bay, Oregon

The Japanese conglomerate Mitsui and California-based Metro Ports are two of the key players in a bid to develop a coal export terminal with the Port of Coos Bay, EarthFix has learned. Environmental groups opposed to coal exportation have criticized the port’s refusal to disclose the names of its potential partners. Mitsui operates a major rail-car leasing business while Metro Ports is a stevedoring and terminal management company.

An engineering study found that a rail line between Coos Bay and Eugene needs about 100 million dollars worth of work before it can handle heavier train traffic. The study was paid for by anonymous investors interested in exporting coal from Coos Bay. Environmental groups have filed formal requests for records detailing the proposal. The port has said it would charge the groups thousands of dollars so that a lawyer could determine whether information is confidential or public under state law. Coal dust is one of the environmental groups concerns.

The port of Coos Bay wants to dredge more than 5 million cubic yards for an access channel and a new two-slip marine terminal on the bay's North Spit. It estimates the terminal would generate from 26 to 280 long-term jobs.

Opposition to Coal Exporting along the Columbia River

The EPA said that the Port of Morrow project has “the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment," and called for a full review of the potential impacts of exporting large amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.

Millennium Bulk Terminals of Longview has now greatly expanded their plans[22]. Instead of shipping 5.7 million tons of coal a year, it now plans for a $600 million terminal to ship 44 million tons a year, from Longview[23]. It would be the largest such coal terminal in North America, The Daily News of Longview reported on February 23, 2012.

Besides questions over the environmental impact, critics point out the terminal would snarl vehicle traffic at railroad crossings through Longview's industrial corridor.

World Electricity Use


Millennium Bulk Terminals near Longview Washington

Millennium Bulk Terminals, is planning to develop a 406-acre Reynolds facility in Longview, Washington into a coal terminal, reports TDN[24]. Millennium's CEO, said he thinks projected Asian demand for coal could support "multiple" terminals on the Columbia River.

In January, 2012, The Port of St. Helens[25] approved agreements with two companies, Amber Energy and Kinder Morgan, that want to export coal to Asia from coal export facilities on the Oregon side.

Scott Learn, of the Oregonian reports[26] that the agreements with Kinder Morgan and Ambre Energy would provide construction work and up to 105 full-time jobs.

Agreements with the Port of St. Helens were hammered out in secret, said Laura Stevens, organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign[27]. Opponents expected the commission to hear proposals from the two companies, considered publicly for the first time Jan 25, 2012, but not to vote on agreements. Instead the commissioners held a closed executive session, then endorsed the agreements that may lead to exporting coal through the port's Port Westward industrial park in Clatskanie[28].

Longview Coal Plan

The Morrow Pacific project, being developed by Ambre Energy, would have an operational capacity of two barge-tows per day and would ship between 3.5 to 8 million metric tons with port approval. Coal would arrive on covered barges loaded upstream at the Port of Morrow[29], then directly loaded onto about 50 ocean-going ships a year.

Longview Coal Plan

Railroad Issues

Kinder Morgan's $150 million to $200 million project (pdf) would receive coal by trains, running through the Columbia Gorge. Environmental groups say each 5 million tons of coal requires one mile-long train a day.

Powder-River-Map

Millennium plans to haul coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to Longview.

Rainer, Oregon[30] has a single rail line that cuts through the downtown and separates homes and businesses from the rest of the city. The tracks cross multiple streets, and speed limits force trains to creep through town.

Exporting 5 million tons of coal a year, requires about two, mile-long daily train deliveries - one to deliver the coal and one to remove the empties.

If a 15 million ton coal export terminal is built at Port Westward, it would presumably require six, mile-long train trips through Rainier daily. And that would come on top of the yet-to-be determined number of grain trains that will soon be traveling to the ethanol plant at Port Westward[31]. The 50-mile Portland & Western Railroad rail line[32] would have to undergo significant upgrades before that, Oregon Department of Transportation officials said.

Each coal train would be 125 cars long, pulled by four locomotives[33]. A 125-car train is approximate 1.34 miles long.

Kinder Morgan's planned 15 million ton Oregon facility would require 3 trainloads each way, or 6 train runs a day. Going 15 mph, it might take 15-20 minutes minutes for each of 6 coal trains daily. Not to mention the current log trains and new trainloads now hauling grain to the new Columbia Pacific Biorefinery ethanol plant north of Clatskanie, which is restarting their operation and is also located at Port Westward.

Ambre Energy would bring in coal by barge at the Port of Morrow[34], then unload onto ships at a new barge dock at Port Westward. Presumably, if Ambre Energy actually sticks to their plan of barging coal to Port Westward, that would cause less railroad congestion on the Oregon side.

Kinder Morgan's proposed a $200 million terminal in Oregon would export about 15 million tons of coal annually by train, while Ambre Energy, planned $150 million export facility plans to export 8 million tons of coal annually, by barge.

To handle 25 million metric tons a year at the planned Longview facility, Millennium will have to bring in 5 trains per day, this would amount to 10 trains per day through Longview, Washington. You might figure 24, 1.25 mile long trains daily if the facility expands to 60 million metric tons a year.

Washington Rail Overpass

Washington planners are developing a $200 million rail expansion plan to accommodate thousands of unit trains expected annually to go the proposed Millennium coal terminal west of Longview. It will be funded by those who will benefit from it, including Millennium, the Port of Longview[35], Weyerhaeuser Co., Longview Fibre Paper & Packaging, local governments and other industries.

Eight, mile-long trains a day would deliver coal to Longview to deliver 44 million tons of coal. Including round trips, that would mean a total of 16 trains a day would stop traffic at Third Avenue, Oregon Way, California Way and Industrial Way.

Possible Infrastructure and Employment Benefits

Seattle-based environmental advocacy group The Sightline Institute, notes how the Port of Portland entered into a 25-year lease with a group called Pacific Coal in the 1980s to export coal to Asia. But after $25 million invested, the project was scuttled in 1983 after demand from Asia proved not to be so robust.

“The Port of Portland tried a coal export terminal in the early 1980s and it collapsed,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Hood River environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper. “The rhetoric was exactly the same as we see today. The market shifted and they never shipped a single ounce of product.”

But officials at the Port of Portland aren’t as willing to portray the 1980s coal experiment as a failure, reports Erik Siemers in Sustainable Business Oregon.

Port of Portland Terminal 4


The work on that 1980s coal terminal paved the way to what is today a thriving operation at the Port of Portland's Terminal Four, exporting Soda ash from Kinder-Morgan berth 411 Google Map. In 2009, Kinder-Morgan handled approx 2 million tons of Soda Ash.

Port of Portland Potash Terminal 5

The Port of Portland's Terminal Five, uses the rail infrastructure to export potash, brought in from Canada. Potash is a bulk commodity used in fertilizers. See: Sam Churchill's tour of Terminal 5

Port of Vancouver

Neither the Port of Portland nor the Port of Vancouver (above) has expressed much enthusiasm for coal, due to cleaner, less problematic business opportunities. The Port of Vancouver celebrated 100 years in April, 2012. It has 2,127 acres that includes 800 acres of industrial facilities, more than 500 acres of land for future development and more than 100 acres of shovel-ready land.

Proponents of the coal export facilities say these are major facilities for the Northwest. They will bring new jobs and create large-scale infrastructure improvement for the Columbia River and the coast that will result in long term economic development for the whole state.

Coal is still powering the United States:

Obama: "This is America. We figured out how to put a man on the moon in ten years. You can't tell me we can't figure out how to burn coal, that we mine right here in the United States of America, and make it work. We can do that".

Soren Wheeler of RadioLab takes us to Butte Montana, home of the Berkeley Pit. Artist Edward Burtynsky produced a documentary film called Manufactured Landscapes.

References

Links

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