Rest assured, most of the respondents believe, when fiscal realities are considered, coal remains key in the U.S. energy portfolio. The survey, however, indicated a lack of a national energy policy impedes investment in new technology.
No one knows this better than American Electric Power (AEP). One of the largest U.S. electric utilities, it is facing some tough decisions on how to provide power cost-effectively and comply with ever-increasing environmental regulations from the EPA. AEP was already planning to install emissions upgrades and retire some coal-fired power in favor of natural gas (See News, p. 10) before the EPA announced its most recent set of guidelines for emissions. The utility says the timelines for compliance are inadequate and it’s also worried about the impact on surrounding communities and ratepayers.
As one would expect, the utility’s pleas for latitude were falling on deaf ears at the EPA. In a surprise move, AEP announced it would terminate its cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and place its plans to advance carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS) technology to commercial scale on hold, citing the current uncertain status of U.S. climate policy and the continued weak economy. In 2009, DoE selected AEP to receive funding of up to $334 million through the Clean Coal Power Initiative to pay part of the costs for installation of a commercial-scale CCS system at AEP’s Mountaineer power plant in New Haven, W.Va. The system would capture at least 90% of the CO2 from 235 megawatts (mw) of the plant’s 1,300 mw of capacity.
The captured CO2, approximately 1.5 million metric tons per year (mt/y), would be treated and compressed, then injected into suitable geologic formations for permanent storage 1.5 miles below the surface. Plans called for the project to be completed in four phases, with the system to begin commercial operation in 2015. AEP said it will complete the first phase of the project but will not move to the second phase.
This was no pie-in-the-sky, near-zero emissions facility on a drawing board. AEP and its partner Alstom began operating a smaller-scale validation of the technology in October 2009 at Mountaineer, the first fully-integrated capture and storage facility in the world. Between October 2009 and May 2011, the life of the validation project, the CCS system operated more than 6,500 hours, captured more than 50,000 mt of CO2 and permanently stored more than 37,000 mt of CO2. The lessons AEP learned from the validation project were incorporated into the Phase I engineering for the commercial-scale project.
In his Dateline Washington column (see p. 16), Luke Popovich reinforces how the rest of the world is moving ahead with more coal-fired power. Meanwhile the ruling class and the environmental NGOs wage war on coal vis-à-vis the EPA and jeopardize America’s ability to compete. Sadly, the CCS system at the Mountaineer plant represents the best chance for the environmental community to work with the coal industry on a wide-scale solution that meets the country’s needs.