A former Obama official is undercutting a key aspect of his former employer’s plan to tackle global warming by arguing that carbon capture and sequestration technology, or CCS, is not commercially viable for industry-wide use by coal-fired power plants.
“[I]t is disingenuous to state that the technology is ‘ready,’” said Charles McConnell, who was the assistant secretary of energy until January. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and now serves as the executive director of the Energy & Environment Initiative at Rice University.
The EPA has mandated that new coal-fired power plants use CCS technology to lower carbon dioxide emissions. The agency and environmental groups says the technology is ready for commercial use.
However, testimony in front of the House science committee on Tuesday by the former Obama administration official undercuts the EPA’s argument.
“Studies have verified that implementation of [CSS] technology is necessary to comply with EPA’s proposed [EPA carbon-emissions limits] regulation and meet the [greenhouse gas] targets necessary for limiting CO2 emissions to our atmosphere,” McConnell said in his prepared congressional testimony. “However, commercial [CSS] technology currently is not available to meet EPA’s proposed rule. The cost of current CO2 capture technology is much too high to be commercially viable.”
This testimony backs up what energy experts have been arguing: that CCS is unproven technology, and lends credit to the coal industry’s legal argument against the EPA’s carbon dioxide emissions limits for power plants.
There are currently no coal plants that use CCS technology on a commercial scale. However, this has not stopped the agency and environmental groups from arguing that the technology is viable.
“The idea that pollution-control technology is too expensive to implement is a familiar theme,” Megan Ceronsky, attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, told The New York Times. “It’s not a novel response to an environmental regulation.”
The Department of Energy, “in partnership with industry, is pursuing a research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) program to address all of these issues, especially CO2 capture cost reduction, but affordable solutions may be decades away with the current level of funding and resultant R&D strategy,” McConnell added.
“What we have seen implies that EPA will rely on carbon capture and sequestration as the basis for establishing their limits,” said Scott Segal, director of the industry-backed Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. “Basing standards on highly-subsidized, non-commercial scale and even non-built facilities is contrary to the spirit and plain language of the statute.”
The EPA justified mandating CCS technology by citing four facilities that are using types of CCS technology. However, the agency admits that none of these facilities have gone into service yet.
The EPA writes that “since April 2012, there has been significant progress on two CCS projects (Kemper County and Boundary Dam), and they are now both over 75 percent complete. Two other projects have continued to make progress toward construction (Texas Clean Energy Project and Hydrogen Energy California Project).”
These CCS projects under construction are near oil and natural gas fields and can sell the carbon they capture to oil companies for enhanced oil recovery — an option not available to many coal plants.
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