12 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 18th: Carbon capture is the longest of long shots
This article, from the Australian Sydney Morning Herald, illustrates precisely why betting on a carbon capture scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a recipe for disaster. The nonexistent technology must be developed, tested, and deployed on a large scale very rapidly. No one knows what it will cost or even if it is possible, making CCS the longest of long shots on which to pin humanity’s hopes. See also “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?“
The [Australian] Federal Government will spend $2 billion to build “industrial-scale” carbon capture and storage projects in Australia.
You would be better off just burying the money, from an environmental point of view, because many doubt the CCS technology will work. The best proponents can say is, it has to. But if it doesn’t, the money is worse than wasted, because the spending will have exacerbated the climate problem by justifying construction of new coal-fired power stations that burn for another 30 to 40 years.
The public could bear the ultimate liability if the technology fails, too, because the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act — the world’s most comprehensive, according to the Government, when it was passed last November — nicely shifts long-term liability (beyond 15 years) onto the Commonwealth.
I’m afraid it is a near certainty that the US public would have to swallow all of the liability associated with carbon capture and storage, too, in the unlikely event it becomes commonplace in this country. After all, the public has taken on most of the liability associated with nuclear power, and it has far riskier outcomes see “How much of a subsidy is the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industry Indemnity Act?“).
The story continues:
We’ve seen what lengths James Hardie went to, to avoid its long-tail asbestos liabilities.
Insurance companies would not take on CCS risk at any price, as even the Government recognises. “Obtaining insurance [for CCS] is nigh on impossible because these are pilot schemes,” a spokesman for the Resources and Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, told the Herald.
Private investment in CCS to date has been minuscule, which is why there is no commercial-scale facility in operation today.
The Australian Coal Association told the Herald that just $25 million had been spent by the end of last year from its Coal21 Fund – the industry’s main vehicle for funding CCS projects – although its members had made legally binding commitments to spend another $496 million. All up the fund expects to invest more than $1 billion over the next decade. The ACA says coalminers are not the prime polluters – it’s the coal-fired power stations – and they should not have to front the expense of CCS.
Ferguson’s office says coal companies had no incentive to invest in CCS under the Howard government. “The reason the coal industry is now starting to make significant contributions toward CCS “¦is because they now see the Federal Government is going to put a price on CO2 emissions, meaning they now have an economic incentive to invest in reducing emissions,” the spokesman said. Industry reaction to the budget commitment to CCS this week was that it was a mere “down payment” on the investment required – as Dick Wells, the chairman of the Commonwealth-appointed National Low Emissions Coal Council, told one newspaper – or “a bit like peeing in the ocean”, according to Keith Orchison, a columnist and former oil and gas industry lobbyist.
Tony Maher, national president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, welcomed the government’s CCS spending this week. Two years ago, though, he told a public meeting in Newcastle that – unlike renewables where there was a clear need for Government funding for pilot projects – the coal mining industry was “a very wealthy global private sector industry and it does not need one dollar of public support.”
Maher also admitted scepticism about CCS would “only be overcome once it’s developed “¦ but there’s no reason to oppose the use of the private sector’s money to deploy those technologies. If it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted Rio Tinto and BHP’s money, and I don’t see that there’s any need to cry about that. If it does work, it’s a tremendous achievement.”
Maher told G-BIZ this week there was no model for private funding for large-scale CCS projects and a hybrid model including public spending was needed.
So having prospered for decades under generous state-based royalty regimes, and having furtively lobbied against effective climate change policy, and having failed to manage the risk that climate change was actually occurring, and having demanded (and won) extensive concessions under the draft emissions trading scheme now that action is urgent, the coal lobby has the hide to demand the public fund the very CCS technology they have been unprepared to back themselves for the last 15 years. And the money needed? Whatever it takes. It’s a bottomless pit.
What do we get for our initial outlay? The Government expects its investment of $2 billion – generating a total investment of $6 billion after 2-for-1 matched funding from industry and state governments – will fund construction of between two and four new CCS-fitted coal-fired power stations generating between 250MW and 450MW each.
By comparison, the $1.2 billion investment in four flagship solar energy stations will generate 1000MW for about $3.6 billion after matched funds are invested, according to the Government’s announcement.
Simply put, CCS is hideously expensive. At Moomba – the biggest known onshore reservoir – it is technically feasible, I am told, and commercially attractive if the carbon price is about $80 a tonne. Well, we’re starting at $10 – so don’t hold your breath. That’s why, speaking on the budget on Lateline Business this week, Industry Fund Services’ chairman and Infrastructure Australia director, Garry Weaven, welcomed the Government’s clean energy expenditure but added he personally had “some question marks over carbon capture and storage as a technology bet”.
WorleyParsons is big in CCS and solar. Last year Worley proposed Australia’s largest solar power project to date, the Advanced Solar Thermal initiative. Backed by Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Woodside and others, the project would generate 250MW, for about $1 billion.
That project could qualify for funding under the Government’s solar flagship program, but it would be Worley’s clients that needed to apply. Peter Meurs, managing director of Worley’s sustainable business unit, told the Herald: “The fact is the world hasn’t done enough CCS yet to be very definitive on prices. We need to build more complete projects to get more definitive numbers. My feeling is the Government is doing the right thing, in helping the first large-scale CCS and solar projects get going in Australia.”
My feeling? The solar spending better count, because we’ll never see that CCS money again.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to pass legislation this week that would overhaul U.S. energy and global warming policy, assuming Democrats can stay united in the face of hundreds of GOP amendments.
Unveiled Friday, H.R. 2454 includes items long sought by environmentalists, including a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a nationwide renewable electricity standard. The 932-page bill, also comes with the support of President Obama, who applauded the “historic agreement” after weeks of intense negotiations among Democrats representing vastly different regions and economic sectors….
Democrats have a 13-seat advantage on the committee, which means Waxman can lose six Democrats and still pass the bill by a single-vote margin absent any GOP defections. Waxman last week predicted passage in committee, and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said he expected a party-line, 36-23 win….
Industry leaders have also been saying positive things about the House climate bill.
“We may be on the brink of something astounding in Washington,” Exelon CEO John Rowe said Friday during a speech at the National Press Club.
“We believe it is vital that this important legislation move out of committee and to the House floor for consideration this summer,” added Mayo Shattuck, the CEO of Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based electric utility that produces more than 60 percent of its power via nuclear energy.
Even Jim Connaughton, the former chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush, called the bill a “highly credible first step.” He also praised the Democrats’ legislative process, which included significant concessions to Boucher and coal-state Democrats.
“It was a real sorting out of differences and bridging some gaps,” said Connaughton, who now manages energy and environmental issues as a Constellation executive vice president. “That bodes well in trying to bring some Republicans on board down the road. If they can keep that spirit of accommodation, that’s a good thing.”
That deserves a wow! (see “Jim Connaughton, Jedi Master of Doubletalk“)
Officials from several other major electric utility companies said they would make public statements on the House bill as early as today, including Duke Energy Corp. and PSEG Inc….
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners applauded Democrats for sending 35 percent of the allowances for free to local distribution companies that service electric utilities. However, NARUC’s leaders said they had concerns about allowances going to merchant generators “who are not regulated and therefore have no obligation to share benefits with their consumers.”
I’m with NARUC: No allowances to merchant coal!
Major climate and energy legislation moving through the House Energy and Commerce Committee would create an expensive, complicated, regulation-heavy system that would not spur developing nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce charges in a letter to lawmakers.
Even so, the nation’s largest business association regards the cap-and-trade plan sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) as the lesser of two evils. U.S. EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act would set off a “catastrophic cascade” of rules and lawsuits, R. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for governmental affairs, warned in the letter sent yesterday.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will attempt to finish marking up comprehensive energy legislation this week, including a renewable electricity standard, if Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and panel members can work out an agreement by Thursday.
Tomorrow, the committee will mark up provisions on nuclear waste, cybersecurity and a refined petroleum products reserve. Thursday, the panel could take up the renewable electricity standard, or RES, as well as remaining provisions on building efficiency, oil and gas development on public lands, carbon capture and sequestration, and energy market regulations.
Many members of Congress remember the painful political lesson of 1993, when President Bill Clinton proposed a tax on all forms of energy, a plan that went down to defeat and helped take the Democratic majority in Congress down with it a year later.
Cap and trade, by contrast, is almost perfectly designed for the buying and selling of political support through the granting of valuable emissions permits to favor specific industries and even specific Congressional districts. That is precisely what is taking place now in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has used such concessions to patch together a Democratic majority to pass a far-reaching bill to regulate carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade plan.
Barton claimed that Waxman “doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill”:
“He has got a chance to get the votes. If you are familiar with Texas Hold ‘em poker, he doesn’t have the nuts. It is not a done deal. Nor do I. . . We will see which has the other by the nuts next week.”
Wind turbines kill large numbers of bats each year “” a public relations quandary for wind energy companies. But the results of a new study show that sacrificing some nocturnal spin time can save the lives of bats, and perhaps boost the industry’s image as well.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative at the 34.5 megawatt Casselman Wind Power Project in Pennsylvania. The researchers found that turning turbines off at night during low-wind periods when bats are most active reduced mortality rates – by about 70 percent on average.
New York wants to install up to 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power at public and private facilities to help meet the state’s aggressive renewable mandate, the governor said in a release Friday.
Specifically, the state-owned power generating company, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), will seek parties interested in entering into public-private partnerships with the state to install the solar arrays.
The solar power generated by the arrays would power about 15,000 homes, according to NYPA.
For the protection of the environment, and because of the limited amount of fossil fuels available, renewable resources, such as specially cultivated plants, wood scraps, and other plant waste, are becoming the focus of considerable attention.
Processes such as pyrolysis or liquefaction allow the conversion of biomass into bio-oil, a highly promising renewable source of energy. A team of German and Chinese scientists led by Johannes A. Lercher at the Technical University of Munich has now developed a new catalytic process to convert components of bio-oil directly into alkanes and methanol. As reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the process is based on a “one-pot” reaction catalyzed by a precious metal on a carbon support combined with an inorganic acid.
Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten