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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Federal investment in CCS needed (for starters)

Wyoming is the US’ largest coal-producing state – by a wide margin. So, the Cowboy State has a huge stake in the development of carbon capture and storage technologies that are essential to avoid catastrophic climate disruption. (So does another coal-producing state, not that you'd know it from official actions.)  A new paper published by the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources (SER) Institute for Carbon Management calls for increased Federal investment in CCS research and development.

Meeting Global Carbon Reduction Goals: A Technology Driven Climate Paradigm calls for ramping up federal spending on carbon capture research and development, and an aggressive effort to use existing, cost-effective technologies to reduce the release of black carbon and methane.

The paper notes that reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have concluded that strategies to achieve large global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are only practical with effective and affordable carbon capture and storage technologies. But such technologies are not ready for commercial application at coal-fired power plants, and a move to natural gas power generation wouldn’t generate sufficient CO2 emissions reductions. 
Major Federal support is certainly needed to develop cheaper capture technologies.  What’s “major”? That’s relative, but support for CCS has not been commensurate with its essential role in staving off climate disaster.  As the study notes: 
…the entire DOE FY14 budget for coal and CCS technology development was $392 million, and the Administration’s proposal for FY15 was $302 million. Compare these amounts to the capital cost of the Kemper County IGCC/CCS demonstration project: over $5 billion. Or, compare the CCS budget to other energy programs. The Congressional Research Service reports that FY2013 appropriations for energy efficiency and renewable energy technology development totaled $3.9 billion, and production tax incentives for wind energy alone were an equivalent amount. These figures seem even more out of balance when one considers that in 2013 the U.S. consumed over 10 times as much fossil energy as renewable energy. 
CCS technology development and urgent deployment are essential pieces of the CCS puzzle. We're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.  CCUS and what I prefer to call the Pennsylvania model to carbon networks are others.  All need support. 

Public budgets are expressions of priorities. Clearly, the Federal government's priorities on climate are not yet in order, despite heroic effort from President Obama. Our public priorities must change. But that's not enough. The private sector – investors, financiers, venture capitalists, banks, and utilities - must lead.

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