We have no choice but to develop low carbon coal technology. By 2015 China will have more than 950GW of coal power – three times the level in the U.S. Unlike plants in the U.S. though, the vast majority of the Chinese coal plants are brand new and will likely be around for half a century or more. India is right behind. If these new coal plants do not capture and store their carbon emissions, it’s game over for having any hope of fighting climate change.
Scientists now say that we need to virtually zero out our carbon emissions from the production of electricity by mid-century. To have any shot, we must rapidly commercialize low carbon fossil technologies, including carbon capture and storage (CCS). But the announcement by American Electric Power to shelve its project at Mountaineer is another example of how our policy to move this technology has been ad hoc and woefully inadequate.
It’s not like the technologies that make up CCS are new. Carbon capture for industrial facilities has been around for decades. And the oil industry has injected and stored over a billion tons of CO2 since the mid 1970s as part of its efforts to recover additional oil from depleted oil fields.
But we’ve failed to adopt the necessary regulations and incentives to push these technologies together (carbon capture AND storage) to drive deployment and lower costs. In part, this is because CCS has been rejected by those who believe that climate change can be “solved” with renewables and efficiency and by the deniers who find it difficult to even acknowledge the existence of climate change.
In AEP’s recent announcement on Mountaineer, CEO Mike Morris noted that without greenhouse gas regulations, it’s impossible to recover the cost of installing carbon controls, despite the fact that the smaller scale CCS pilot at Mountaineer validated the technology.
We need a responsible approach to climate that recognizes CCS is essential for all fossil fuels (i.e., coal and gas). The U.S. can play a key role in CCS deployment and cost reduction in the following ways: First, the Obama Administration should propose strong new source performance standards in September that send the clear signal that CCS must be deployed on future and existing fossil power plants over a reasonable period of time. Second, the Department of Energy should reform programs like the Clean Coal Power Initiative so that award recipients receive enough funding to move projects forward. Finally, Congress should adopt significant incentives for CCS – Senators Lugar, Conrad, Bingaman, and Rockefeller have each developed a package that will encourage industry to take the necessary steps.
We can do this – all it takes is the right regulations, sufficient incentives, and the political will to see it through. Because if we don’t, pure and simple — we just won’t avoid the worst consequences of global climate change.