Trimming carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal powered plants is crucial to achieve significant reductions around the world and stave off climate change, according to a report from the Massachusetts Institute Technology Energy Initiative on Friday.

There is no credible pathway toward prudent greenhouse gas stabilization targets without CO2 emissions reduction from existing coal power plants, Professor Ernest Moniz, director of the MITEI said today in a statement today.

Cutting back emissions from existing coal plants is necessary because they will continue to operate for decades even when industry turns to carbon-free electric power generating technologies, the CEO of Entergy Corporation Wayne Leonard said today as he spoke during the announcement of the MITEI report.

Once built, coal plants are, in most cases, the cheapest source of base load power generation and will not be phased out absent very high CO2 prices, Leonard said according to MIT. It's basic economics.

The report identifies a range of possible next steps for industry, governments and policy makers. It supports high-efficiency coal plants already equipped with desulfurization and nitrogen oxide emissions controls.

The report also proposes research to develop cheaper post-combustion capture technologies so that retrofits are affordable in developing countries. MIT estimates this research and development to cost $1 billion of federal funds investments per year over the next decade.

The report also urges the government to expand the scale and scope for utility-scale commercial demonstration of coal plants with CO2 Capture, and proposes the funding and support of joint R&D programs between the United States and China, the major carbon dioxide producing nations.

We may not see a strong CO2 price signal for many years. In the interim, we need a large, focused, federal program to develop and demonstrate commercial-scale technologies, Moniz said.

The MIT report is based on the findings of a major symposium on retrofitting coal-fired power plants held in March and sponsored by Entergy Corporation.