Clean Coal a Must, Says Entergy CEO


I sat down yesterday with J. Wayne Leonard, the New Orleans-based CEO of Entergy and the latest utility executive to get on the climate-change train. Leonard, native to my state, ravaged both by Katrina and by the petroleum industry, waxed sincere about the need for strict cap-and-trade and 100% auction of allowances, as he wrote in The New York Times last month. "We can't eliminate the risk to your generation," he told me. "We have two degrees of warming already in the pipeline. The best we can do is reduce the risk of catastrophic effects—keep it down to 20% instead of 80%."

Where Leonard departs from environmental correctness is in his denigration of a renewable portfolio standard—a mandated percentage of renewable energy, which exists already in several states—in favor of funding research into clean coal. Entergy has partnered with researchers at MIT on several demonstration projects. The integrated energy company plans to ask the Department of Energy for funding to build a full-scale plant, even though it relies largely on nuclear and natural gas. 

The activist attitude towards still-nascent, and extremely expensive, carbon capture and sequestration technologies is summed up in the chant heard at the Capitol last week: "Unicorns, leprechauns, clean coal!"  But one point Leonard made stuck with me. "China has two million megawatts of coal production. Billions in sunk capital. Are they going to shut that down voluntarily? Not unless carbon goes to $150 a ton. Are we going to make them shut it down?" 

[Image: Untitled (Louisiana, Cancer Alley) Courtesy Les Stone/Pierogi 2000 Gallery ]

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  • Mike Holly

    @Noah. You are confusing what I said. I was saying that I would support deregulation except the politicians are unable to do it fairly (like we've seen in the past). My answer was not the european emissions trading but rather European-type "feed-in tariffs." Feed-in tariffs are paid to all renewable energy producers at the same fair price. For example, all renewable energy producers would get 5, 6 or 7 cents per kWh for all power they generate. That is much better than renewable portfolio standards that allow the utility to negotiate prices with suppliers. That invariably result in higher prices for their own renewable energy generators and that of their affiliates and friends.

  • NoahRobischon

    @mike The problem with "consumers should decide" is that it inevitably leads to deregulation like we've seen in the past. The european emissions trading is not a realistic solution when the most polluting industries in the region land multibillions in windfall profits. See:

  • Mike Holly

    The utility executive is right that government should not be picking renewables, but neither should utilities be allowed to pick clean coal or nuclear. Moreover, the government should not pass renewable portfolio standards because these mandates would allow utility monopolies to award discriminatory renewable energy contracts to themselves, their affiliates and friends. Consumers should decide the type of power they want at the price they want from whom they want in a competitive marketplace. Government’s role should be limited to pricing externalities like carbon emissions and nuclear waste storage. The US should establish competitive free markets but the problem is deregulation failed in the US because states awarded old coal and nuclear power plants all sorts of advantages including stranded cost subsidies, grandfather exemptions to environmental regs, preferential grid access, etc. In the meantime, the US should establish feed-in tariffs that pay all renewable energy producers the same fair price (like Europe does).