One failed project, another over budget, hint at carbon-capture challenges under EPA rules
The EPA’s new proposed power plant rules offer an unyielding compromise: If you want to burn coal in America in the 21st century, fine, but you have to clean up after yourself. The rules would basically make it impossible to open a new coal-powered facility unless it has carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) technology that can keep some of its carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the air.
Despite an abundance of underground storage space where CO2 could conceivably be stashed, only a dozen or so carbon-capture projects are operating or under construction worldwide. And in a bad sign for any coal barons who might still be optimistic about the future of coal burning in the U.S., one of the world’s most ambitious carbon-capture efforts has just been abandoned in Norway. That development coincides with news of nearly billion-dollar cost overruns at another CCS project in Mississippi.
Reuters reports that Norway’s outgoing center-left government dropped its plans Friday for a CCS project that it had once likened in ambition to sending humans to the moon. It would have pumped CO2 from a natural gas plant at the industrial site of Mongstad deep underground:
“A full-scale carbon dioxide capture facility is still the objective. The government has, however, concluded, after careful consideration, that the risk connected to the Mongstad facility is too high,” Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe said.
The government said it would keep a research center at Mongstad, testing various carbon capture schemes, with funding of 400 million crowns ($67.4 million) over four years.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose Labour Party and coalition allies lost power last week to right-wing and centrist parties in an election, said in 2007 that Norway would try to lead the world in carbon capture. …
“This is one of the ugliest political crash landings we have ever seen,” said Frederic Hauge of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona of the decision to drop the carbon capture plan.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg brought us news last week of the costly travails of a “clean coal” plant with CCS being built in Mississippi’s Kemper County. Instead of being pumped underground, CO2 from Southern Co.’s plant would be piped and sold to oil companies to help them extract more oil from aging fields. But the cost overruns have already reached $900 million:
Altogether, the project is now expected to cost $4.7 billion. At that cost, the plant is now one of the most expensive power plants ever built for the amount of electricity it will produce. …
But capital costs are only part of the equation. Kemper will be the cheapest plant to operate once it’s up and running next year because it sits next to the reserve of low-cost lignite [coal]. It will also be selling carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid and ammonia that it pulls from its gasifier for an estimated $50 million a year.
Well, the EPA said that carbon capture is possible — it never said it would be easy. If the coal industry wants to build new plants, it looks like it has some serious innovating do it.