In Kentucky, officials face a dilemma. AEP has a coal plant there that needs $1 billion of scrubbers and other environmental controls to stay open past 2015. State officials would like to keep it open because Kentucky coal mines supply the plant. But the state doesn’t want to approve the $1 billion in retrofits, which Akins says would increase electricity rates by 30 percent, hurting consumers and businesses. On the other hand, the state needs the generating capacity and building a new natural gas plant will also cost nearly $1 billion.
So will gas stay cheaper than coal?
Energy reporter Steven Mufson discusses how the increasing production levels and decreasing costs of natural gas are pushing coal out of the energy marketplace.
A look at what major tech companies did in 2012.
The sudden abundance of cheap natural gas is breathing life into a wide range of businesses.
SPECIAL REPORT |Three journalists traveled the proposed pipeline route. Learn more about their journey.
“The issue becomes where do you think gas prices are going to go versus where you think coal prices are going to go,” Akins said in the interview. “It’s a difficult proposition.”
‘A bridge to the future’
Meanwhile, at the Salem Harbor docks, Footprint Power has paid a consulting firm to collect bore samples 100 feet deep to figure out how to clean up once the coal is gone.
The new natural gas plant would take up only a third as much space as the coal plant, so the town of Salem could expand its dock for bigger ferry boats or even cruise ships. The town has built a tourist industry around the history of the witch trials of 1692 and 1693. Just outside the plant stands another attraction, the “House of Seven Gables” that Nathaniel Hawthorne used as the model for his novel about a home cursed by a man wrongfully hanged for witchcraft.
All things being relative, the community is pleased. “I was quite publicly opposed to the idea of another fossil-fuel-burning power plant replacing the existing fossil-fuel-burning plant,” said Lori A. Ehrlich, a state representative who stood near Romney the day he criticized the plant in 2003. “I saw it as an opportunity for a bit more imagination.” She would have preferred a marine biotechnology development now underway at a different old coal plant site down the coast.
“That said,” she added, “I would choose a brand new, cleaner-burning natural gas plant over a 1950s-vintage, unscrubbed, coal-burning power plant any day. So it’s a vast improvement.”
“This plant is not the future, but it is a bridge to the future,” Furniss said. “This project is screaming to be done.”