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Editor/Founder: Bill Smith, Ph.D. [aka: OzarkGuru & 2010 AFP National Blogger of the Year]
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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Carbon Capture, Key to Greenhouse Gas Rule, Not Ready for Primetime

The following article is about the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas rule. The author points out that the agency is basing the proposed rule on carbon capture technology. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy claims it's "feasible," but there are a host of viability issues surrounding the only plant in the U.S. that's about to use the technology, and energy experts only see it being commercially viable decades from now.

Also, Norway just announced it was shutting down a influential carbon capture project. In other words, EPA is basing its costly regulation on a belief in unicorns.


Kemper County (MS) Coal Gasification Plant.
 Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
by Sean Hackbarth: In a big non-surprise, the administration launched its latest attack on coal, America’s most-plentiful energy source.

EPA released a proposed rule that would allow a new coal-fired power plant to emit no more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. New natural gas plants would only be allowed to emit 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
Since the average coal-fired power plant emits 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, new plants will need to have carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. This is something EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said is “feasible” and “available today.”

Really? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, what is CCS?

Think of CCS as the raw rookie NFL quarterback of energy technology. It looks great on paper but needs a lot of work to reach its potential.

CCS is a technology that captures carbon dioxide and stores it deep underground.

The Department of Energy estimates that 2,400 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide could be stored in these formations beneath the United States.

This video gives you an idea of how this could work:
Now to CCS' viability. MIT lists five large-scale power plant CCS projects Kemper County:
The 582-megawatt plant is the first of its kind built on a commercial scale and will use a low-heat oxidation to convert lignite coal mined nearby into a synthetic gas that can be burned in a turbine to produce power. Carbon dioxide produced by that gasification will be extracted with a solvent and sold to oil producers to spur production in old fields.
The Kemper plant may be inexpensive to operate once operational, but much of that will be due to the plant’s geography. It’s located next to its coal reserves, and it can sell captured carbon dioxide to the energy industry in Texas and the Gulf Coast region for enhanced oil recovery. There aren't many ideal locations like Kemper, meaning it could be difficult to copy this plant elsewhere in the United States. In addition, construction of the plant relied on a Department of Energy pledge of $270 million and a federal tax credit of $133 million according to the Bloomberg story, which makes the commercial viability of CCS technology questionable at this moment.

Energy experts don’t think CCS will be ready for primetime for decades. The International Energy Agency (IEA) lists three goals in its CCS technology roadmap:
  1. “By 2020, the capture of CO2 is successfully demonstrated in at least 30 projects across many sectors.”
  2. “By 2030, CCS is routinely used to reduce emissions in power generation and industry.”
  3. “By 2050, CCS is routinely used to reduce emissions from all applicable processes in power generation and industrial applications at sites around the world.”
And even in her speech today, McCarthy admits CCS is a work in progress [emphasis mine]:
The standards set the stage for continued public and private investment in technologies like Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). With these investments, technologies will eventually mature and become as common for new power plants as scrubbers have become for well-controlled plants today.
In other words, the CCS technology isn’t there yet, despite McCarthy’s wishful thinking. Yet EPA has written a proposed regulation based on it that will greatly affect the future of America’s electrical grid.

U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten was highly critical of the proposed standard:
It is clear that the EPA is continuing to move forward with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants.

The EPA had the chance to craft a regulation that recognized the value of the “all of the above” energy strategy endorsed by President Obama, and ensured that standards were achievable and based upon commercially and economically viable technology. Instead, they have released yet another major regulation that will hamper economic growth and job creation, and could lead to higher energy costs for American families and businesses. Furthermore, we continue to believe that the Clean Air Act is not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association said, “EPA has also set a dangerous and far-reaching precedent for the broader economy by failing to base environmental standards on reliable technology,” and added, “The more responsible course for the administration is to base standards on the best-in-class technology available today.”

As law professor Jonathan Adler points out at the Volokh Conspiracy [via memeorandum], in its proposed regulation, EPA must demonstrate that CCS is the “best system of emission reduction.” A technology used by one large-scale test operation blessed by a great location might not meet that standard.

In its continued assault on coal, the administration is relying on a technology that’s not viable and isn’t expected to be for decades. The affordability and reliability of America’s electrical grid will be the victim of this folly.

UPDATE: On the same that EPA tries to convince everyone that CCS is ready to go, the Wall Street Journal reports that Norway is backing away from a big project:
Norway is shutting down the Statoil ASA-operated Mongstad full-scale CO2 capture project, Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe said Friday, ending the prestigious environmental project that outgoing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg branded Norway's "moon landing" in 2007.

The International Energy Agency--the energy watchdog of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development--has said that CO2 capture and storage from power plants fired by oil, gas and coal will play a vital role in worldwide efforts to limit global warming, contributing to about 20% of required emissions reductions in 2050.

The Mongstad full-scale project was meant to capture CO2 from the nearby gas-fired power plant and refinery, and the government had estimated the planning to cost NOK3 billion. The project is led by Statoil, but the government pays all the costs.

The project has been both challenging and costly, and the risks are now seen as too big to go through with it, the government said.

"We must have a project we can stand for, so we can show that this [technology] is good," Mr. Moe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. "When our assessment is that Mongstad isn't such a project, it's the right thing to do what we are now doing, taking the consequences."

Tags: Obama administration, war on coal, greenhouse gas rule, To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 2:58 PM - Post Link

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