CHARLESTON -- As the governor of the second-largest coal producing state in our nation, and as chair of the regional interstate compact Southern States Energy Board (SSEB), I would like to offer some insight into the importance of greening of coal for a bright future in America.

Today, we hear the terms energy security and climate change spoken almost in the same breath. Those two key issues are running up against a third, less-spoken concern that is surely as certain to require our attention in the near future. Simply put, we are faced with shortages of electrical generating capacity and we need to act to maintain economic prosperity and to grow the economy. One of the critical responses to this national situation is for those with a stake in the solutions -- Congress, governors, legislators, regulators, the utility industry -- to start a serious dialogue to develop solutions to ensure an ongoing, reasonably priced, green and reliable energy supply.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) projects electrical system reserve margins will continue to shrink, indicating projected increases in peak demands continue to exceed projected committed resources beyond the next few years. To meet these shortfalls, the country needs a portfolio of electrical generating options that include new, cleaner, green coal-fueled generators as well as gas-fired generation; renewable energy resources including wind, solar and biomass; and a strong emphasis on energy efficiency in buildings.

As we plan for a bright future fueled by our own indigenous resources, the mission of the SSEB comes to mind: "Through innovations in energy and environmental policies, programs and technologies, the Board enhances economic development and the quality of life in the South."

As we consider how we provide an adequate energy supply that is environmentally acceptable, we must recognize the critical role of technology in this three-fold discussion. Because of its wide availability, versatility and reasonable cost, clean coal technologies will be of strategic importance in the future.

How can we utilize these plentiful indigenous coal resources in a green way to meet the future needs of our citizens? Coal currently is the fuel source for almost half of the electricity generated in the United States. Carl Bauer, director of the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory, testified at a recent congressional hearing that the United States has some 250 years of coal available given current technology, prices, and coal consumption. What actions are necessary to lead us toward a sustainable future, environmentally and economically, using these coal resources?

While coal is expected to remain a major fuel for electricity generation for the foreseeable future, recent decisions by state public service commissions and utilities show a clear movement away from the resource due, primarily, to CO2 emissions. Fifteen coal plants have been canceled in Florida and 10 in Texas the past two years.

Regulators require some utilities planning to build a coal plant to have a carbon plan projecting the lifetime emissions of the plant. The most promising opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which traps CO2 and stores it underground, uses it for enhanced oil and coal bed methane recovery, or feeds CO2 to algae for biofuels production.

Potential storage solutions include depleted oil and gas reservoirs, saline-filled formations or unmineable coal seams. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has formed seven regional partnerships that are testing technologies for large scale CCS.

There are signs that advanced, clean coal technologies are making an impact on the nation's electrical capacity. Indiana utility regulators recently approved Duke Energy's proposed 630-megawatt integrated gasification combined cycle coal-fired power plant, equipped with advanced pollution controls. Duke Energy Indiana President Jim Stanley suggested that finding ways to burn plentiful, low-cost Midwest coal cleanly is fundamental to meeting customers' demand for power at "one of the cleanest, coal-fired power plants in the world when it's completed." Duke will complete an engineering and design study to potentially capture up to 18 percent of the plant's CO2 emissions and will design the plant so that CCS equipment could be added in the future.

The DOE has a major research and development project under way, called FutureGen, which uses technology developments from a number of core R&D programs in providing near-zero atmospheric emissions from the clean power plant. This plant will be the cleanest fossil-fuel-fired power plant in the world. The project will use coal gasification technology integrated with combined cycle electricity generation and capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide.

DOE will announce its final site selection for the FutureGen project in December, following a November release of the final environmental impact statement for all four candidate sites (Mattoon and Tuscola, Illinois and Odessa and Jewett, Texas). A report by the Electric Power Research Institute earlier this year recognizes the potential for FutureGen to fundamentally change our nation's electricity infrastructure. The report acknowledges the importance of testing and proving the concepts so the combined technology can be made commercially cost-effective. FutureGen has the potential to be a major solution in the quest for green coal technologies.

The real key to a successful future in the energy sector is sustainability. We need to keep learning how to optimize the use of our resources, become more energy efficient, and minimize waste.

Sustainability is achieved when we incorporate a balance of environmental, economic and energy security goals to maintain a reliable and efficient power sector in our economy. We can implement demand reduction programs such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, installing high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, set back thermostats, insulation and storm doors. We can also provide incentives and promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, especially in our building designs. But we simply must invest in improving thermal efficiency at existing coal plants, begin construction of a new generation of clean, supercritical coal and integrated gasification combined cycle plants, and implement other advanced designs.

Not since the 1970s have we seen so much discussion about the role of energy and how it is produced and used. Concerns about global warming and greenhouse gases, rising fossil energy costs, nuclear waste, summer blackouts and instability in energy rich regions of the world have led to intense debate in the United States over our energy future.

Leadership and dialogue throughout the industry and at the national and state level is needed now more than ever. DOE Undersecretary of Energy Bud Albright recently described the "energy chaos" currently plaguing our country relative to the future role of coal. He said, "On one hand, the coal industry hears congressional leaders say they must reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, without specific plans. On the other hand, state regulators are turning down proposals for more efficient coal plants that produce less CO2 emissions."

This is a conundrum that must change if electric utilities are to preserve their reserve margins and if we are to continue our economic prosperity. Technological solutions leading to the greening of the coal industry hold the key to that promise for a bright future for America.

This opinion article was jointly signed by Kentucky Gov.-elect Steve Beshear.

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