In her introductory remarks, Kim Chilcote from American Electric Power (AEP) told the audience that the message she was about to deliver would not be pleasant. She said she was a coal person at heart and that made it difficult for her as well. She described how an unusually warm winter and low gas prices this year would segue into a diminished coal burn for years to come. Afterward she fielded questions and listened sympathetically to angry remarks. The hostility was not aimed at her, but toward the Obama administration and the EPA.
During the Q&A session, someone asked about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). She reminded the audience that for several years AEP operated a CCS pilot plant at its Mountaineer facility in West Virginia. What the company learned was that the costs to build and operate the system were extremely high and so were the parasitic losses. AEP funded the research and then pulled the plug on the project. An academic came unglued at the notion that utilities would simply walk away from CCS. He believed it was the linchpin to continued coal use and that rate payers would simply have to bear the cost.
In World News this month, Coal Age also reports that another utility, based near Edmonton, Canada, home of the Oilers, was throwing in the towel on its carbon capture project (See TransAlta Abandons, p. 5). Instead of sequestering or pumping the CO2 into a deep saline formation, Project Pioneer would use it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The drillers would pump CO2 into oil reservoirs to push out the remaining oil that did not flow freely from the formation. The study, however, proved that the efforts would not be feasible. If EOR is not practical in the middle of the Canadian oilfields, it’s a safe assumption that pumping CO2 hundreds of miles in the U.S. for the same purpose would not be feasible.
The Worldwatch Institute, an advocacy group that support global sustainability, recently reported that there are 75 large-scale, fully integrated CCS projects in 17 countries at various stages of development, but only eight are operational—a figure that has not changed since 2009. Currently, the storage capacity of all active and planned large-scale CCS projects is equivalent to only about 0.5% of the emissions from energy production in 2010. In March, the EPA proposed regulations on CO2 emissions from power plants, essentially saying that power generators would be unable to build coal-fired power plants without CCS technology. Scaling up CCS projects to the point that they could make a serious dent in emissions reduction will require a massive investment. Who is going to foot the bill?