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Topic: Clean Coal

[Episode #198] – The Coal Trap

Why have coal-mining communities continued to white-knuckle their interests in coal long after it was clear the industry was well into decline and would never come back? How were politicians able to misdirect blame toward a “War on Coal” narrative rather than economic factors?

In this episode, Jamie Van Nostrand, a longtime lawyer who has worked both for utility regulators and utility companies, sheds light on these questions. In addition to his current role as a regulator, Jamie has served as a professor of utility law and regulation in several states, including West Virginia, the poster child of coal-industry denial about the energy transition. In Jamie’s 2022 book, The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution, he explains how the politics of West Virginia, and the actions of coal industry proponents and lobbyists, contributed to a culture of denial about the need for a clean energy transition. This denial has come at a great cost to West Virginians, who have missed out on energy transition during a ‘lost decade’ and are now facing unnecessarily high grid power costs for many years ahead. Jamie shares his insights in this episode and explains how the situation in West Virginia can serve as a cautionary tale for other communities facing similar challenges. It’s a fascinating book, and Jamie’s explanations in this extra-long episode are illuminating.

Geek rating: 3


[Episode #107] – Macro-Energy Systems

Energy transition is a complex thing, involving technology, the economy, market structures, regulation, a changing climate, politics, and more. So why don’t we teach and study it that way, instead of in siloed disciplines?

In an effort to encourage more informed and collaborative work—across disciplines, and at appropriately large scales—a group of researchers at Stanford University has proposed a new discipline they are calling “macro-energy systems.” Its goal is to grapple with the challenges of studying large-scale energy systems, focusing on phenomena that occur over long time spans, large areas, and large scale energy flows.

In this episode, we speak with one of the professors behind the effort, who explains how bringing together a community of researchers from multiple disciplines to develop a lingua franca and some common frameworks can better equip all researchers to tackle the challenges of climate change and energy transition. She also shares her expertise on the state of carbon capture and storage technologies!

Geek rating: 5


[Episode #62] – How Advance Cost Recovery Swindled the South

How did the legal innovation of “advance cost recovery” allow utilities in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi to torch more than $40 billion on nuclear and coal plants that went way over budget or never produced a single kilowatt-hour of electricity? And what if this story is more than just a few poor decisions about a handful of power plants, but instead a long history of reckless behavior, if not outright fraud and corruption, by contractors, utilities, their regulators, and legislators, which customers in the South will be paying off for years to come? And what can be done to prevent such boondoggles in the future?

Our guest in this episode is a reporter from the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, The Post and Courier, of Charleston, South Carolina, who has been contributing to a terrific series of articles about what went wrong with these power plants, by doing good old-fashioned investigative journalism. It’s a pretty incredible story they have uncovered and continue to tell in their newspaper every week as they work to uncover the truth and protect consumers. After you hear this jaw-dropper, you’ll probably never take the prospect of US nuclear or clean coal seriously ever again.

Geek rating: 2

Geek rating: 2