Recent cancellations of flagship projects suggest Alberta may have to return to the drawing board. Because it’s the largest emitting province, this constitutes a major setback for Canada’s emissions strategy.
CCS involves capturing industrial carbon-dioxide emissions and sequestering them permanently in underground geological formations. It’s been demonstrated in several pilot projects and features prominently in many international climate-change mitigation schemes. What’s more, Alberta has the right geology and expertise in drilling. The biggest problem has always been the technology’s cost. Hoping to spur development, in 2008 Alberta provided $2 billion in subsidies for what turned out to be four major projects. The government wanted them to be operating by 2015, and to store a combined five million tonnes of CO2 annually.
Two expectations underpinned Alberta’s approach, the first being that CCS’s costs would decline sharply as industry gained experience. The second was that new regulations would introduce per-tonne costs for emitting CO2, thus encouraging companies to invest in mitigation. “At some point, the cost of capture intersects with the cost of carbon, and all of a sudden you don’t have to subsidize industry to do it,” explains Rob Savage, director of Alberta Environment’s Climate Change Secretariat. “That’s the theory behind what we’re doing.”