NY Attorney General Investigating Energy Companies

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For all those fighting for a future without coal power, the cause just got a high-profile supporter — New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has opened an investigation of five large energy companies, looking into whether investors were given enough information about the financial risks of CO2 emissions of the companies’ future coal-power plants.

This is a pretty big deal — about half of U.S. electrical generation comes from cheap-but-dirty coal power, according to the Energy Information Administration. And while coal power is responsible for massive amounts of CO2 emissions, new plants are still coming online, and “clean coal” technologies are largely unproven. The companies being investigated include AES Corp. (AES), Dominion (D), Dynegy (DYN), Peabody Energy (BTU) and Xcel Energy (XEL).

The New York Times quotes letters sent from the Attorney General’s office that say:

“Any one of the several new or likely regulatory initiatives for CO2 emissions from power plants — including state carbon controls, E.P.A.’s regulations under the Clean Air Act, or the enactment of federal global warming legislation — would add a significant cost to carbon-intensive coal generation,” the letters said. . . Selective disclosure of favorable information or omission of unfavorable information concerning climate change is misleading. — letters quoted by New York Times

Companies like Duke Energy (DUK) and ConocoPhillips (COP) are working on innovations to reduce or store CO2 emissions from coal power plants, but there is a lot of skepticism over the industry dubbed “clean coal.” Coal gasification, which uses heat, steam and pressure to turn coal into gas, and carbon sequestration (storing carbon underground) are showing some promise, though the processes are expensive and largely unproven.

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