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Conference Notes Demand for Coal Increasing Along With Use of Electrical Power

Meeting the world's demand for electricity and reducing pollution from coal-fired electric generating plants is a major topic at the annual conference sponsored by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, or CERA in Houston this week. Costs for building new plants are going up dramatically, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston.

Speakers and panelists at the CERA conference are focusing on the need to develop greater electrical generating capacity and, on the other hand, reduce the carbon emissions that are blamed by scientists for global warming. Much of the electricity generated in the world comes from plants burning coal, a major source of carbon pollution.

The head of the world's largest coal company, Gregory Boyce, Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Peabody Energy, told the conference that clean coal is the primary sustainable fuel able to meet the world's fast-growing energy demands. But, he said, the problem of creating clean-coal plants and sequestering carbon pollution is enormous.

Among the participants with a special interest in this issue was Igor Sorokin of the Russian Energy Forecasting Agency. "We have good reserves of coal and coal capacity is our future. We need to make them clean and environmentally acceptable," he said.

Sorokin told VOA that his country needs to address the issue of carbon pollution produced by coal if it is to successfully develop this energy source along with its abundant natural gas resources for electric generation. "It is a challenge on our agenda. Unfortunately, our technological development in this field is not very encouraging. We should join some international program on clean coal development," he said.

Sorokin said he and his colleagues have had the opportunity at this conference in Houston to meet counterparts from over 50 nations and exchange ideas with them.

The need for more electricity is also a concern for the United States. Speakers at the conference noted that the price of electrical power is likely to rise in the years ahead as demand grows and power companies build new plants and expand existing plants.

A report released at the conference Thursday indicated that the cost of building a new power plant in the United States has gone up 130 percent since the year 2000. The cleaner the plant, the more expensive it is to build. The cost of carbon sequestration from coal-burning plants is expected to add even more to the price consumers will pay for electricity in years to come.

A CERA power expert noted that the United States will have to build at least 200 gigawatts of electrical power generation capacity in the next 15 years just to keep up with basic demand.