As I suggested earlier, the crux of today’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Climate Change was to suggest that carbon capture and storage is necessary quickly, via enormous government subsidies, or else we’re screwed.
Remember, this is Ed Markey‘s committee. He’s the guy who’s supposed to advise Congress about upcoming climate-change legislation, and, for all intents and purposes, he’s an ally to Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the environmentally minded members of the Democratic caucus.
This we expect from Markey:
There are over 150 new coal-fired power plants on the boards in the United States, and globally, it is predicted that something on the order of 3,000 such plants will be built by 2030. These new plants alone would increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent and global emissions by 30 percent. That would spell disaster for the planet.
Fortunately, carbon capture and storage — or ‘CCS’ — offers a path forward for coal … All indications are that CCS is a viable interim solution to the coal problem.
Markey taking this line means that if we’re lucky enough to see major action out of Congress on climate change, CCS is going to be a huge part of it. But we already knew that, right?
Here are two takes on the issue, from two sources that couldn’t be more deeply at odds with each other. Both suggest coal may yet see its heyday.
The first comes from Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power, who testified at the hearing. He supports, in the same tepid way that many energy companies now do, an economy-wide cap-and-trade program with carbon credits allocated freely. (His justification for this might just represent one of the great moments in the history of inadvertent honesty: “We believe that credits ought to be allocated to those who will invest the capital to make a difference in the environment, rather than an auction so that those who buy them can make money by the positions they have taken.” In other words, give energy companies the allocations because we’re already rich and don’t award the innovators for beating us to the punch.) One of Moore’s other main points was that coal companies won’t begin installing CCS equipment until CCS “has been demonstrated to be effective, and the costs have significantly dropped so that it becomes commercially available on a widespread basis.”
He’s certainly not the only person who thinks it’s politically infeasible to impose drastic, costly policies on the coal industry — and that therefore carbon-based energy companies have the world by the political balls. Robert Sussman, an environmental expert testifying on behalf of the Center for American Progress, said, “unfortunately, our analysis indicates that the initial stages of cap-and-trade programs [do not] not make carbon prices high enough to eliminate cost differentials” between clean and dirty coal plants.
That points toward two possibilities: We could ratchet up the regulatory impact of climate-change legislation, or we could subsidize the hell out of CCS.
At the end of the hearing, Sussman suggested that the Congress set a date (specifically the year 2016) by which CCS technology be standardized, saying the cost of such a hasty transition would require $35 billion to $40 billion in research subsidies.
As a consolation prize, David Hawkins, director of the Climate Center at NRDC, proposed that the marginal costs of outfitting coal plants with CCS technology should be paid directly by consumers (a green incentive) and not by direct tax subsidies. Woot?