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Coal has no role in sustainable development in Ghana

Coal Energy File photo

Tue, 4 Oct 2016 Source: Hinneh, Samuel

By Samuel Hinneh

Power generation through coal, might be considered as the cheapest, but, coal fired power plant poses severe threat to environmental sustainability.

The hazards manifested through the establishment of coal fired power plant in terms of health, livelihoods destruction, among others are well known. Diseases such as asthma, to destruction of fertile farm lands are just a few problems associated with coal fired power plants.

Technology, perhaps has come to reduce these problems, nevertheless, coal fired plants cannot be a solution to clean energy and sustainable development.

The Paris climate deal and the newly adopted 17 sustainable development goals to keep global warming well below 2°C, and aim to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels and promote the adoption of clean energy respectively, cannot be attained with coal energy generation The Paris Agreement is a historic and ambitious new global climate deal that was agreed upon at the United Nations climate talks in Paris in December 2015.

For the first time, this agreement requires all countries developed and developing to take climate action. Meeting these targets will require a redoubling of climate efforts at all levels of society. The world urgently needs to shift to climate-resilient, low-carbon development.

Decisive action at the national and local level, along with international commitments, is necessary to drive many countries and businesses to take more ambitious action. To have a chance of limiting warming, the vast majority of carbon-releasing fossil fuels, the biggest driver of climate change have to be phased out.

The deployment of high-efficient low-emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants is presented by the coal industry and some governments as a technology that is climate friendly, claiming that if combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) another, separate technology, it would ultimately lead to zero and even negative emissions.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessment of emissions scenarios, this implies that by 2050 the global electricity sector needs to be decarbonised.

The Shenzhen Energy Group Co., Ltd. of China (SEC) in collaboration with the Volta River Authority (VRA) intends to develop a 2×350MW supercritical coal-fired generating units (including affiliated coal handling terminal), at Ekumfi within the coastal areas of the Ekumfi District in the Central Region of Ghana.

A report by ECOFYS Netherlands B.V. says HELE coal-fired electricity generation produced from plants which have a higher conversion efficiency and lower carbon dioxide emissions intensity than conventional subcritical coal-fired power plants.

Due to these features, the development and deployment of HELE technologies is promoted by the coal industry and some governments as one of the key steps towards carbon dioxide emissions mitigation in the energy sector.

There is a range of HELE technologies for power generation with various degrees of conversion efficiency and levels of emissions, known as supercritical (SC), ultra-supercritical (USC), advanced ultra-supercritical (A-USC) and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants.

Table: Conversion efficiency, CO2 emissions intensity and coal consumption values for coal technologies

Technology

Conversion efficiency CO2 emissions intensity (gCO2/kWh) Coal consumption (g/kWh)

Subcritical Up to 38% ?880 ?380

Supercritical Up to 42% 800–880 340–380

Ultra-supercritical Up to 45% 740–800 320–340

A-USC/IGCC 45–50% 670–740 290–320

Credit: ECOFYS Netherlands B.V.

The report says in 2011, approximately 50% of new coal-fired power plants used HELE technologies, predominantly SC and USC pulverised coal combustion units. USC coal combustion is currently the most efficient HELE technology, with some units reaching a conversion efficiency of 45%, and with an emission intensity of 740 gCO2/kWh. Development of A-USC technology is expected to begin in the 2020s and could lower emissions to 670 gCO2/kWh.

A three day tour of the project sites in the central region revealed that majority of the inhabitants have not received information on the negative impact of the project on their livelihoods, health and environment, among others. The project will create jobs, for the local indigenes but temporarily, especially during the construction phase of the project.

The VRA seems to capitalise on this, given that the communities lack job opportunities particularly for the youth. But the consequences of having coal fired power plant has enormous problems on the health of the people which cannot be solved with temporary jobs. The money that will be earned will eventually be used to pay hospital bills, medication and other related expenditure.

In as much as the VRA wants to go ahead with the project, they have a moral duty to educate the communities about the harmful effects of coal. People are craving for such information.

Communities lack Jobs, a situation which paves way for organisation to capitalise on, regardless of the consequences involved. For instance, during a short meeting held at open space upon arrival at the hotel, prompted some youth in the area to demand that their names are not left out in the compilation of names for jobs once the project kicks off.

The eagerness to land a job probably puts the people in no cause to be educated on problems associated with the project. Nevertheless, some have heard or might have read about the harmful nature of coal fired power plant.

Some expressed displeasure with regard to the manner in which the VRA has gone about the communication of the project. In as much the people welcome job creation initiatives, in the same way, they want to be educated on the harmful nature of the establishment of the power plant.

An assembly member, David Dawson in one of the communities says, coal fired power plants are being shut down in developed countries due to the negative effects on people's health, livelihood as well as the environment. He revealed that the project owners are only concentrating on job creation to lure people to believe that coal fired power plant poses no harm to the environment.

"The VRA and partners are not informing the people about the dangers associated with the project... Once someone begins to talk about the negative aspects of the project, that person is perceived as politically sabotaging the community with reference to the project,” Dawson noted.

Interestingly, leaders including chiefs and others have benefited from education on the project by the VRA. But from all indications, the information is yet to reach people on the ground. Mr Dennis Aidoo, who takes charge of the spiritual welfare of the Aboano community said several attempts to hold meetings with the chief to discuss educating the entire community members has proved futile. According to him, the chief always cites reason that the project is yet to take off.

Productive days and hours are spent engaging in various forms of leisure activities. Apart from driving commercial vehicles such as taxis, fishing, the youth especially are seen playing drafts or engaging in long hours of conversations. It is no surprise that the idea of job creation for the youth is wholly welcome regardless of the risks involved.

Ghana’s Volta River Authority (VRA) and partner, Chinese firm, the Shenzhen Energy Group Co., Ltd will be using the supercritical technology in the construction of the plant. The partner believes that applying the carbon capture technology can withhold poisonous gases and any setbacks associated with coal.

The VRA says using clean coal technology has the ability to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. The company is of the view that modern coal power plants emit 90% less pollutants. Again, the VRA intends to utilise fly ash into various products such as hollow blocks, culverts, pavement blocks, road paving, etc.

According to a report by the US Department of Energy, Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has the ability to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power production. Most studies find the potential for 70 to 80 percent reductions in CO2 emissions on a life-cycle basis, depending on the technology.

Because of this potential, utilities and policymakers are considering the wide-spread implementation of CCS technology on new and existing coal plants to dramatically curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power generation sector.

Nana Koji Mensa II, a chief in one of the communities says: “From the engagement we had with the VRA, the organisation made it clear that the project will not disturb the communities in anyway. We understood that the olden day coal technology allowed emissions to be emitted far and near, which causes harm to people and environment. The technology for this one allows for the emission to be kept underneath.”

People have been criticizing coal but the machine will help to reduce emission into the atmosphere, the chief stated.

“Rain harvesting is done by people who cannot afford pipe borne water, but having gone on tours organized by the VRA, we have been told that the machines can help to address any damage to water harvested through the rain. We embraced it, the project will come to help the poor get jobs and will not bring any diseases to people,” Nana Mensa II says.

However, the implementation of CCS systems will have many other social, economic, and environmental impacts beyond curbing the GHG emissions that must be considered to achieve sustainable energy generation. For example, emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter are also important environmental concerns for coal-fired power plants.

If the parasitic energy consumption of a carbon-capture plant increases the emissions of one or many of these other air pollutants, this should be considered when evaluating the technology’s overall sustainability or environmental impact.

For example, several studies have shown that eutrophication is expected to double and acidification would increase due to increases in nitrogen oxides emissions for a coal plant with CCS provided by monoethanolamine (MEA) scrubbing. Potential for human health risks is also expected to increase due to increased heavy metals in water from increased coal mining and MEA hazardous waste, although there is currently not enough information to relate this potential to actual realized health impacts.

In addition to environmental and human health impacts, supply chain impacts and other social, economic, or strategic impacts will be important to consider.

“Even Europe is shutting down and cancelling coal power plants projects but once the government is bringing a project and you kick against it people do not understand. This is because, they have different mindset of bringing the project; they think about the positive but do not think about the negative side,” Dawson stated.

“For now people will not see the impact until the project has taken off, people in the community are not willing to voice out the environmental effects, once you do it people tag you as politically sabotaging them. It is rather unfortunate that the government officials do not stay around to experience the impact, only the locals will experience,” he said sadly.

“If the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) really thinks about the people in the project areas, they can prevent the project from taking place. They can advise government to change to renewable energy. There are people within the EPA who scientifically are aware of the negative impact of coal and perhaps feel reluctant to inform the government. The government feels it is creating jobs for the people, but the impact will be felt by the locals,” Dawson stated.

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel