Reuters market analyst throttles EPA carbon capture claims in coal rule

John Kemp writes at Reuters:

NO RELEVANT CASES

The EPA claims “nearly all of the coal-fired power plants that are currently under development are designed to use some type of CCS.”

The EPA switches back and forth between “few if any” and “nearly all” in a deeply misleading manner: of the tiny number of coal-fired projects currently being planned, “nearly all” of those proposed would use CCS.

The EPA then cites four projects that are currently under construction or development that employ CCS technology. But not one of them has actually entered service yet and no one knows how they will perform in practice.

Southern Company’s Kemper County Energy Facility, currently under construction in Kemper County, Mississippi, is the most advanced. But it is only 75 percent complete and has run billions of dollars over budget.

SaskPower’s Boundary Dam project is under construction. The Texas Clean Energy Project is at the planning stage. And the Hydrogen Energy California project is still on the drawing board.

“Each of these projects has obtained some governmental financial assistance” the EPA admits. The reason is that CCS is still far too expensive to compete with other forms of power generation.

GREAT PLAINS SYNFUELS

The EPA highlights the Great Plains Synfuels Facility, part of the Basin Electric Power Cooperative, in North Dakota, a giant facility that produces natural gas from lignite, as an example of a gasification process successfully equipped with CCS technology.

“The Great Plains Synfuels Facility is a coal gasification facility that has captured at least 50 percent of its produced CO2 for use in enhanced oil recovery operations since 2000,” the EPA observes.

The Great Plains Synfuels Plant is an engineering masterpiece. Conceived after the first oil shock, it was the largest construction project in North America in 1981-82, much of it built during the coldest winter in 100 years.

It produces natural gas for customers in the Midwest, supplies carbon dioxide to an enhanced oil recovery project in Canada, and makes a range of other specialty chemicals.

But the plant required prodigious amounts of federal assistance. It was loss-making when it opened and had to be taken over and bailed out by the federal government in 1985.

The official history, superbly told by Stan Stelter in his monograph on “The New Synfuels Energy Pioneers: A history of the Dakota Gasification Company and the Great Plains Synfuels Plant” makes fascinating reading; I cannot recommend it highly enough.

But no one familiar with the plant’s history could think it is a good example of why gasification and CCS is a cost-effective solution to the problem of emissions reduction.

TECHNOLOGY FORCING

None of this seems to bother officials at the EPA. Its own rulemaking establishes there is not a single relevant instance of CCS being successfully implemented in the United States without substantial federal financial assistance. Not one project has been implemented on a commercial basis. And only one project has as yet actually captured any CO2.

Still the EPA notes laconically: “The projects in development for new coal-fired generation are few in number, and most would already meet an emission limit based on implementation of CCS. As a result, a standard based on partial CCS would not have a significant impact on nationwide energy prices.”

“For example, the Hydrogen Energy California facility plans to capture approximately 90 percent of the CO2 in the emission stream,” according to a footnote. But planning is not the same thing as doing, let alone doing profitably.

Necessity is the mother of invention. During national emergencies such as World War Two, the Cold War and the Space Race, engineers made enormous technical advances under intense pressure to find a solution to previously intractable problems.

The EPA’s rule seems to rely on a similar approach to technological forcing: mandate a technology, and hope the engineers will solve all the problems.

Read the entire column.

One thought on “Reuters market analyst throttles EPA carbon capture claims in coal rule”

  1. “Billions of dollars over budget.”

    Jeeze, I can remember when a coal fired power plant could be built for ten million. Government has screwed the pooch.

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