Public face of coal is filthy, but expertise is well positioned for clean energy fight

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By Jay Vincent
Senior Vice President for Energy, The Saint Consulting Group

Coal. Whether it’s mined, firing power plants or now utilizing technology to turn it into gas and liquid form for electricity or jet fuel, it elicits perhaps the strongest opposition to any land use project you can find. coal-is-filthyEnvironmentalists fund full-scale campaigns against its many forms and uses (still the largest generator of electricity in the US by far) and are quite sophisticated at employing public relations tactics to convince elected decision-makers to vote “no” on coal-related projects.

In fact, before I even displayed it in my presentation, the graphic about filthy coal was a topic of discussion in the room as it’s been the “face” of anti-coal campaigns with the public.

Last week I spoke on a panel at the World Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) Conference in Washington, DC — full of participants who literally split atoms for a living and those who invest in the technology resulting from that activity, I found a real appetite to turn a nascent CTL industry into a real contributor to meeting global energy demand. However, technology and capital will only get you so far, and my observation was that the attendees came with that understanding and looking to add to the toolbox of solutions.

After all, many of the attendees were coal companies and energy corporations who have lived the politics and public debate around coal for decades. With attendees who have been through the wars, I felt the “political” panel tasked with giving an overview of energy players on Capitol Hill, federal tax incentives and dealing with local communities about the impact of these projects was looking at more nods of the head than confusion. There were a few who actually have sited these types of facilities locally to success and did it right the first time in terms of dealing with communities and local politics, I think based on having learned the hard way in the past.

Coal may attract the most negative attention to each project and may be disfavored in Washington. But supporters of coal may also be best armed with the most experience in political and public challenges given its long history of being opposed. And with increasing competition with renewable energy generation that itself still faces local NIMBY opposition despite strong public polling, that ain’t too shabby.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy, The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 312.970.5770 Ext: 7502

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