Railing against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) doesn’t mean that Luke Voigt, business manager for Boilermakers Local 647, doesn’t have a viable option.
“A better alternative to this plan would be to look into emerging technology, and build the newest and most modern technology in coal-fired generation,” Voigt told EP News Wire. His union has members in North Dakota and Minnesota.
“New coal-fired boilers are way more efficient and will decrease CO2 output considerably,” he said recently from his Ramsey, Minnesota, residence. “This avenue, coupled with new technology in carbon capture and sequestration, could be the solution.”
In fact, the Lignite Energy Council in North Dakota has been developing a carbon collection and sequestration process called the Allam cycle, which it is “very close to perfecting,” Voigt said, adding that a pilot plant is currently being built in Texas.
“If this process works as planned, we could burn coal at a carbon release neutral rate and sequester it for enhanced oil recovery,” he said.
Of course, this plan — like many others — is expensive, Voigt pointed out, “but in the end, we would continue to have affordable and reliable energy, and hundreds of thousands of good jobs would not be sacrificed for a possible 0.01 degree Celsius temperature increase over the next 20 years,” which is what the CCP requires, among other standards.
Voigt is passionate about the issue because, in a nutshell, “the CPP as written is a stake in the heart of the boilermakers,” he said.
The boilermakers union was founded by people who build coal and wood-fired boilers for factories and heating systems in buildings, he explained. The industry then transitioned to railroad steam engines and then to coal-fired power plants.
Under the CPP, Voigt said 40 percent to 50 percent of the places where boilermakers now work will be shut down by cutting their work opportunities by nearly half.
“Being a building trade craft limits us to what we have for work,” he said. “Over the past 100 years, all the building trades have established clear work jurisdiction that fits our specialized training and skills. To this, we simply cannot move onto other work that our brothers and sisters from other crafts do.”
Additionally, through negotiations with signatory contractors, the boilermakers union has self-funded its apprentice training program, which means no public funds are received or used in training apprentices. And with the average cost to put a person through the four-year program approximately $40,000, “after all this, are we just supposed to stop and pick a ‘green job’ and retrain?” Voigt said.
Equally troubling, he said, is that the CPP as written will have serious economic impacts to low- and middle- income citizens.
“Right now everyone has access to affordable and reliable power,” Voigt said. “Once we start shutting coal-fired units down, the only options left are gas-fired generation, wind, solar and hydro,” which oftentimes are pricier options.
While all of these energy producers of green power sources such as wind, solar and hydros have potential, he added, they have serious drawbacks.
“None of these can provide reliable baseload power — the wind does not always blow, the sun does not always shine; and if we have a drought, hydro has no power source,” Voigt said.
All these issues add up to the real consequences that the low and middle class will feel, which is that they will end up being the ones who will have to pay for all the new generation equipment that the CPP will require, regardless of what it is, Voigt said.
“We will simply end up with a whole new class of people in this country called energy poor,” he said.
The upper class can afford to put up a wind tower or solar panel or pay more for basic energy needs, but most people cannot, he added.
“There is so much wrong with this whole thing, and it’s obvious to me that no one thought through the economic impacts of the CPP,” Voigt said. “It will affect this country and its people to the core.”