A federal task force charged by President Obama in February to determine the viability of developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) released a report concluding that CCS can play an important role in domestic greenhouse gas emissions reductions if the right mix of policy drivers and coordinated oversight is enacted.
Co-chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage delivered a report (pdf) containing recommendations to President Obama on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years.
“If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future,” President Obama told the nation’s governors when establishing the task force in February.
CCS is broadly defined as a group of technologies focused on capturing, compressing, transporting and permanently storing power plant and industrial source emissions of carbon dioxide -- particularly the emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The main findings and recommendations of the task force include:
- CCS is Viable: There are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of this technology.
- A Carbon Price is Critical: Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS is best achieved with a carbon price, but there are market drivers and actions that can and are taking place now, which are essential to support near-term CCS demonstration projects that will pave the way for broader deployment after a carbon price is in place.
- Strengthen Federal Coordination: The U.S. can meet President Obama’s near-term goal and get 5-10 commercial demonstration CCS demonstration projects online by 2016. The U.S. should create a standing federal agency roundtable and expert committee to facilitate that goal.
"These recommendations mark an important step forward in combating climate change and strengthening our economy through green jobs - top priorities for this administration,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, co-chair of the task force.
Jackson said the EPA’s work in developing regulations governing CCS will “reduce uncertainty for early projects and help to ensure safe and effective use of the technology.”
“By encouraging efforts to develop clean coal technology,” said Jackson, “we will obtain new tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and make our nation more competitive in the global race for clean energy technology."
"The U.S. has the ability to develop clean energy innovation here at home,” said Secretary Chu. “Rather than sending billions overseas to pay for clean technologies, we should invest these dollars here - in America's workers, industries, and innovations.
Needless to say, the coal industry cheered the report and recommendations from the task force.
“CCS represents the next wave of clean-coal technology, allowing us to safely capture and store carbon dioxide," said Steve Miller, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group, in a statement. "Investments in this technology are critical, and we look forward to a continued partnership between the private sector and the federal government to ensure its development.”
National policy framework and massive investment required
One of the most critical findings of the report is that widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will occur only if the technology is commercially available at economically competitive prices and supported by national policy frameworks, such as a cap on carbon pollution, or a carbon tax. Thus far, the U.S. Congress has been unable to pass a law setting a cap on carbon, mostly because of the inability to secure the 60 votes needed in the Senate for a filibuster-proof majority. However, the House has already passed a cap-and-trade bill.
In terms of investment, the U.S. has already invested $4 billion in federal funds -- the largest government investment in carbon capture and storage of any nation in history -- and these investments are more than matched by $7 billion in private investments.
Studies show that carbon capture technologies are most affordable when they are integrated with new plants, as opposed to retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants. According to Economic studies indicate that carbon capture will add over 30 percent to the cost of electricity for new integrated gasification combined cycle units and over 80 percent to the cost of electricity if retrofitted to existing pulverized coal units.
But opponents of large-scale CCS investment argue that the billions of dollars invested in researching and developing carbon capture and sequestration could be better spent on developing advanced renewable energy systems and new clean energy capacity. They also say that CCS will only prolong our addiction to finite energy resources like coal and stunt the growth of the renewable energy industry.