While only 11 gigawatts of new coal-fired plants were built in the U.S. from 1991 to 2003, and virtually none from 2001 to 2005, the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy now estimates that 145 gigawatts of new coal-fired plants will be built in the U.S. by 2030. Utilities and other power plant developers have already announced plans to build 151 coal-fired plants with a capacity of 90 gigawatts.

Outside of the U.S., the projections are more dramatic. Estimates of the worldwide total new construction of coal-fired plants by 2030 are around 1,400 gigawatts.

Policymakers and scientists now recognize that the current growth of greenhouse gas emissions must be reversed and that emissions must be reduced substantially in order to combat the risk of climate change. Yet a dramatic increase in coal-fired power generation threatens to overwhelm all other efforts to lower emissions and virtually guarantees that these emissions will continue to climb. This would preclude any possibility of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that would acceptably moderate the predicted rise in global temperatures.

Fortunately, there is a potential pathway that would allow continued use of coal as an energy source without magnifying the risk of global warming. As a new Center for American Progress report shows, technology currently exists to capture CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants before they are released into the environment and to sequester that CO2 in underground geologic formations. Energy companies boast extensive experience sequestering CO2 by injecting it into oil fields to enhance oil recovery. Although additional testing is needed, experts are optimistic that this practice can be replicated in saline aquifers and other geologic formations that are likely to constitute the main storage reservoirs for CO2 emitted from power plants.