Energy Secretary Rick Perry signed a pledge to promote “clean coal” technology that’s largely failed to take off, despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers.
Perry and International Energy Agency (IEA) executive director Fatih Birol signed the pledge Tuesday, promising to “support a renewed push for investment in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) as an essential part of a clean energy future.”
The CCUS pledge hailed U.S. leadership on funding projects to capture carbon dioxide emissions, including the Petra Nova coal plant in Texas and an industrial project in Illinois.
Perry is a major supporter of CCUS, and has often cited Petra Nova as an example of where the future of the coal industry could be. The Trump administration will also push CCUS and other fossil fuel technologies in international climate talks taking place in Bonn, Germany this week.
But the rosy picture of CCUS painted by the IEA is somewhat of a departure from reality.
The Energy Department (DOE) has backed a slew of small projects to commercialize CCUS technology at processing and chemical plants, but most of the agency’s flagship coal projects have been disappointments.
Petra Nova came online in 2017, and has captured more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide. Captured CO2 is piped to a nearby oil field for enhanced oil recovery operations. So far, it’s the only U.S. coal plant using CCUS.
The DOE put up $167 million of the $1 billion cost to build Petra Nova. The Illinois industrial CCUS project cost the DOE $141 million in 2009, which is more than twice the capital put up by private investors.
Other DOE-funded projects haven’t worked out as well. The Kemper plant in Mississippi was supposed to be the future for large-scale coal plants, capturing 65 percent of the CO2 from coal generation.
Kemper plant also came in $4 billion over budget, and it was supposed to begin operating in 2016. The plant is online, but operators said they would run the plant on natural gas, not coal.
The DOE also funded the Hydrogen Energy California project, committing $408 million to the project in 2009. The DOE stopped funding the California CCS project in 2015 since it failed to meet milestones to keep its funding.
The California project is not up and running yet, and neither is another CCS project in Texas.
The Texas Clean Energy Project has been plagued with delays, which forced auditors to warn the Obama administration that taxpayers could lose $450 million if the project fell through.
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