Carbon Sequestration: Another Expensive, Useless Regulation?
Currently, no EPA regulation requires carbon capture and sequestration, or storage of carbon dioxide at fossil fuel burning facilities.
However, the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) has previously partnered with power generation giant American Electric Power (AEP) to install carbon capture technology at AEP’s Mountaineer power generation facility. Starting in 2009, this partnership was established as part of the Clean Coal Power Initiative. This partnership was established to test the efficacy of the technology, processing 18% of the total flue gas slipstream, equivalent to 235 MW of generating power. This testing program would have been removing the equivalent of 1.5 Million metric tons of carbon from the slipstream per year.
This program promised AEP up to $334 million (in phases) to install a carbon capture and compression system at the Mountaineer plant. If AEP hadn’t recently pulled out of the partnership, the carbon dioxide would then have been chilled (by ammonia cooling), compressed, and injected into nearby geologic formations for long term storage. (The location is adjacent to several coal mines in various stages of working.)
AEP cited “regulatory uncertainty" as the reason for this pullout. The company readily admits that carbon capture and sequestration technology is vital if the industry is to be able to stay in business without having to retire all coal-fired power generation facilities. But at the same time, they claim there is too much instability and volatility in the regulating environment. The technology requires commercialization, and since there are no standardized federal regulations regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases, they have no way to regain their share of the costs involved in validating and deploying the technology.
In other words, without EPA regulations mandating the carbon capture and storage, they can’t raise the rates of utility customers. So because they can’t legally raise their rates, they decided to quit the partnership, but only after accepting $16 MILLION dollars from the U.S. taxpayers to pay for the first phase of the program, which included design, engineering and environmental impact reporting.
However, AEP and Alstom, which provides the chilled ammonia process for extracting the carbon, self-funded a smaller trial at the Mountaineer facility, on a 20MW scale, that validated the technology. They successfully captured ninety percent of the carbon in the flue gas and safely sequestered it underground.
The technology is proven.