AEP seeks federal funds to expand W.Va. CCS project

August 20, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


With a carbon capture test at its Mountainer Power Plant in New Haven, W.Va., just weeks away from going operational, American Electric Power announced this afternoon that it plans to seek federal funding to expand the project.

The initiative would increase the carbon capture and storage (CCS) ability of the plant from the current 20-megawatt project to 230 megawatts. That’s still less than 20 percent of the 1,300-megawatt plant — and the effort would not be operational until at least 2015.

AEP hopes to win $334 million from the U.S. Department of Energy‘s latest round of “Clean Coal” money, or enough to fund half of the costs of installing its favored chilled ammonia carbon capture process.

That’s right — $334 million is half the cost of a project to capture less than 20 percent of the plant’s total greenhouse emissions.

As I’ve written before, AEP has begun to talk pretty straight to lawmakers and the public about the huge challenges facing the coal industry and coal-fired utilities in trying to perfect and deploy CCS.  And there’s little question now that CCS amounts to the coal industry’s elusive holy grail, as The Washington Post recently put it.

But AEP President Michael G. Morris had this to say about his company’s efforts and its move to seek more federal funding:

Commercialization of carbon capture and storage technology is an essential component in a successful climate strategy for this nation, which relies on coal-fired generation for about half of its electricity supply. Coal is a low-cost, abundant domestic fuel source, but its use is a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions.

First-movers like AEP who push the commercialization of technology will face higher costs than those who wait for others to act, costs that would be borne by our customers. But without efforts like ours, the availability of solutions for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants will be needlessly delayed. It’s an appropriate use of federal stimulus funds to spur the advancement of this technology and to offset the financial penalty facing our customers and our company for taking the initiative.

The current AEP project, which hopes to capture carbon dioxide emissions equal to just 1.5 percent of the entire Mountaineer Plant’s output, received no federal money.

39 Responses to “AEP seeks federal funds to expand W.Va. CCS project”

  1. Taxpayer says:

    If AEP wants to continue to sell electricity derived from coal, which is dirty in so many MORE ways than CO2 emissions, it should pay the related costs. $334 million would pay for an awful lot of efficiency improvements.

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  3. Phil Smith says:

    Ken: If we’re going to find out what it’s going to take for this technology to work, we’ve got to start somewhere, and everyone understands that it always costs money to get new technologies up and running. I think you yourself have said that it’s important to see if CCS will do what we hope it will do, and that’s the road this plant is headed down.

    The money has been asked for by the President and appropriated by Congress for this very purpose. The price tag looks relatively high, but not when you consider some of the other things the government spends our money on. This is money well spent.

  4. Thomas Rodd says:

    I agree with Phil Smith’s post.

    As we speak, AEP is spending one billion dollars to put scrubbers on its stacks at the John Amos plant, to allow that plant to burn coal in compliance with the Clean Air Act. I’ve often wondered why folks who think mining and burning lots of coal long-term is a bad idea didn’t oppose those scrubbers — since they go a long way toward insuring that the plant can and will create a large demand for WV coal — and the revenue to pay off that billion-dollar investment.

    It’s quite possible that the future of human civilization on this planet will turn on whether CCS can be made to work effectively. For a story that illustrates this position, see:

    In this article, the British Minister for Energy says: “World demand for coal is projected to rise by 70% by 2030, an average annual rate of 2.2%, and the bulk of the rise will come from India and China.

    “China is a nation built on coal, so the idea that if we showed some kind of lead and we in Britain say no to coal and China will say ‘OK we will follow’ is just daft.”

    “We are responsible for 2% of emissions worldwide, and we have a duty to tackle that,” Wicks said.

    “But the real gain here, the real challenge – and if we do not meet the challenge, all is lost on global warming, the stakes are that high – is to bring on clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage.

    “Once we can develop those technologies, we can help the Chinese, the Indians and others to retrofit power stations and make CCS a component of new coal-fired power stations. That is the only way we are going to tackle this problem.”

    I know there are contrary views, but anyone who denies the possible validity of this particular view of CCS, I think, is starting from conviction, and not evaluating the evidence. And if this view is even possibly correct, how can we not give CCS a mighty try?

    “The stakes are that high.”

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Tom and Phil,

    First of all, the costs of the scrubbers get passed on to AEP customers — it’s not coming out of the company’s bottom line. In addition, let’s not pretend that the scrubbers and the NOx controls were not installed only after years of fighting by AEP against Clinton EPA lawsuits and environmental group efforts to force the company to control these emissions.

    In addition, let’s also not pretend — as Phil seems to do (“we have to start somewhere”) that this is a new problem that’s just been discovered. Coal and the coal-fired utilities have spent 30 years denying global warming — and some within those industries continue to do so.

    If we’re just getting started to see if CCS will work, that’s why.

    Take a look at this report from the Center for American Progress, which outlines the tiny expenditures industry-wide by coal-fired utilities on these sorts of projects:

    Finally, my point in emphasizing the costs is that folks need to understand that the expense is one of the big hurdles and question marks. I think AEP itself said so during a congressional hearing last month:

    “The Congress and indeed all Americans must come to recognize the gigantic undertaking and significant sacrifices that this enterprise is likely to require. ”

    Tom’s right about how high the stakes are — but it’s also important that the real context of this crisis, and who got us here and how, be clearly understood.


  6. Red Desert says:

    There is no certainty that commercialization of carbon capture and storage is essential, will be a successful climate strategy, or even makes sense for a nation which relies coal-fired generation for less than half of its electricity; a percentage that appears to be dropping. Coal may be relatively low-cost, but that seems to be changing as easily mined domestic resources become less abundant and the public becomes less willing to pay for huge externalized costs of environmental damage associated with coal. Coal plants are very expensive to build and maintain, even without capture and storage, which will soon be required since a major problem with coal is that its use is a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions.

    That said, $334 million is not much money. We should invest in the research.

    Thomas–I don’t think it’s crazy to have major doubts about CCS. It’s enormously expensive. It’s terribly inefficient. The efficiency equation may improve but it is not going to change. CO2 weighs nearly 4x what coal weighs. Factoring out the impurities in coal (significant and polluting), for every ton of coal mined, hauled and burned–you have to capture, compress and pump three tons of CO2 underground. And you still have a whole bunch of ash and other bad stuff back at the plant to get rid of. Think about this–your bike tire is full of CO2. As you pump up the tire and the CO2 inside gets hotter and hotter until eventually, assuming the tire doesn’t explode and kill everyone in the room, you’ve pumped it up to some enormous pressure where the CO2 gives up the fight, goes through a phase change and becomes a liquid. But let the pressure off for an instant–it’s back to a gas. Now pump those three tons of liquid somewhere off in the distance and deep in the ground and keep them there. Forever and ever.

    W-M keeps prices of coal-derived carbon ARTIFICALLY low. Wouldn’t it be better just to treat carbon the same regardless of source? (Call such an approach legislative carbon-neutral.) With the coal-favored, non neutral approach (and why would any rational policy favor the most polluting fuel), we are locking in use of more coal rather than encouraging efficiency, reducing demand, and switching to cleaner fuels.

    What I don’ t understand is this. If things are really as bad as they seem, we are going to have to do something about the carbon from (relatively) clean fuels like natural gas. If we really need to store the stuff–we should be starting with a fuel that has half the carbon and burns a lot more efficiently. That isn’t ideological. It’s rational.

    We’ve been through this before. The coal plants–like the AEP plant you mention in your comment–were supposed to clean up or retire. Instead, they keep spewing out pollution, grinding on at 25% (in)efficiency, year after year. May be that’s why folks are suspicious of all the promises from the coal folks.

    I don’ t catch why installing scrubbers at John Amos would insure “demand” for WV coal. Was there a demand that the plant shut down or install scrubbers?

    I’m willing to research CCS. I’m not willing to committ to it as the national strategy on climate change to be implemented two decades from now.

    PS–we’re on the same side here.

  7. Phil Smith says:

    I am by no means pretending anything. My comment was specifically related to beginning to work on developing and implementing CCS technology and I think was clear in doing so. Attempting to make it something it wasn’t really is a departure from your style, Ken.

    You have done and continue to do your job of pointing out the positions that may have been taken in the past and are still taken by some that have brought us to this point. That’s fine, but we are still at this point and must work our way out of it. The AEP project and others like it are what will do that, regardless of what was or wasn’t said or was or wasn’t done over the last 30 years.

  8. Clem Guttata says:

    Thomas — I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic later, but as a starting point I want to question your coal demand numbers (which you seem to use as a surrogate for coal production).

    Multiple studies suggest that we will reach Peak Coal sooner than 2030. For example, this report by Energy Watch Group ( ) said, “Global coal production to peak around 2025 at 30 percent above present production in the best case.”

    That’s a big difference from the 80% increase by 2030 that you state.

    In fact, I think by 2030 it is far more likely that world wide coal production in terms of net energy produced will be 180% of 2009.

  9. Clem Guttata says:

    Oops… the comment system ate most of my last line…

    I was trying to say, I think 80% of 2009 levels is just as likely as 180% in 2030.

  10. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    No offense was intended … but I thought your comment left open the idea that, well, gosh, it’s great that AEP is starting somewhere on this CCS business … when we both know that coal supporters have wasted 30 years fighting greenhouse gas limits.

    I wonder what the UMWA Journal’s first article mentioning global warming said about the topic? Did it acknowledge the problem existed?

    The UMWA has chosen, rightly so, I think, to engage in the debate and argue for changes to the climate bill that it thinks will help coal. But I still wonder why the union isn’t doing more to educate its members about why the problem is real … while the coal industry does everything it can to tell miners that it’s all a hoax.

    At the same time, I continue to believe that it is incredibly important for everyone to understand that we have no real idea if CCS will work on the scale needed … but at the same time, we’re putting a ton of money into it. And putting all our eggs in that basket. It is reasonable to ask if this is sound policy, just as it’s reasonable for Tom Rodd to think it is sound policy.

    The stakes are really big.


  11. WVState says:

    The stakes are big and the price is high. One problem with the “we have to start somewhere” attitude is that, once the money is invested, you then have the feeling that “we’ve spent this much, we have to keep going with it.” Pretty soon you realize you’ve got a trillion dollars invested and it’s doing as much as you hoped, but gee, you can’t just throw all that money awya, can you?

  12. WVState says:

    Oops, typo, I mean to say “not doing as much as you hoped.” What I get for typing after 11pm. :(

  13. Anonymouse says:

    You all know what I think. Tom, have you ever once considered the evidence I’ve summarized here numerous times before?

    Waste of money, waste of time, Waste of a world, waste of breath.

  14. DrewWVU says:

    We are on the right track. This is good news. The liberal media can say as they please about money and cost, but its better for the environment. $300 million is drop in the bucket compared to what the Obama administration has wasted on bail-outs, buy-outs, and other government control schemes. Amazing how good news can be miscommmunicated. Go Mounties!

  15. Phil Smith says:

    Ken: I checked past UMW Journals regarding your question above. The earliest mention I can find is in the May-June 1995 issue, In a story entitled “UMWA takes on next clean air challenges,” which includes this line, “Carbon dioxide (CO2) is linked…to a global increase in temperature. All coal — high- and low-sulfur — emits CO2 in higher concentrations than other fossil fuels.”

    The major thrust of that story was the job losses that industrialized countries would face under the 1992 UN agreement on climate change, and especially UMWA members. That is obviously still the major concern for us today with respect to U.S. laws and regulations as well as any international agreements the U.S. may become a party to.

    The issue has also been raised several times in subsequent issues of the UMW Journal (including two cover stories since I became editor in 2005), and I must say that at no time in any of those articles has the union ever questioned the science regarding global warming.

  16. Thomas Rodd says:

    Great discussion. My impression is that current and proposed CCS investment of public funds is significant, but equalled or bettered by a lot of other stuff. That’s how Joe Romm sees it, I believe.

    As Ken notes, the immediate research/demonstration CCS funbding is “chump change,” compared to the real-world costs IF CCS proves out. These costs will require at least a 100% increase in electricity costs. For thie reason, unconventional natural gas in the US will probably be able to beat CCS in the short and medium term, which probably means CCS under the best of circumstances would be slow to gain coverage in the US.

    But in the rest of the world, they haven’t got the gas, and they are poised to increase coal use massively — one way or another. Even though coal is a limited resource , there’s still an incredible amount of it, all over the globe — especially if the price is right.

    Finally, if we are to look to who’s “at fault” for our current situation, I’d say that the foot-dragging of coal/utility industries on CCS, aided by the Bush administration, is one good place to start.

    As I said, great discussion.

  17. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks for checking that, Phil. Very interesting. I’d love to see those articles, if you could send them to me.

    I’d be especially interested to see how the issue of the science is framed — whether the UMWA tells its members very clearly: This is a big problem, folks, and something has to be done about it — we just want to try to make sure that what is done is done in a way that protects our members. Or, if the science of it is just a passing thing, framed as if it’s just another nuisance from those darned environmentalists.

    When we’re talking about federal dollars for CCS, it is important to also understand the broader context of the government’s “clean coal” program — BILLIONS of dollars have been spent on that program over the last few decades, including a ton of money for “liquid coal” projects that have never worked — and are a huge problem if you care about global warming.

    I think it’s understandable for coal’s critics to be wary of spending more and more on “clean coal” for CCS, when money was wasted on some of these other projects. I also wonder if industry supporters — like Gov. Manchin and Sen. Rockefeller — would do themselves and the industry some good if they narrowed their efforts to milk more money from the government to just the most important projects, like CCS, and dropped the liquid coal nonsense. On top of that, the report I previously linked to indicates that utilities and the coal industry aren’t putting much of their own funding into CCS. Perhaps instead of putting more money into letter-faking PR efforts, the industry should spend that money on CCS.

    In short, I think that the fears of coal’s critics have a good basis in history, and should not be discounted — until all coal supporters (the UMWA included) admit all of these fears are justified, then the critics aren’t going to stop bringing up past mistakes.


  18. Thomas Rodd says:

    I think Red Desert’s points are important, and I think we are in agreement to a great degree about CCS research and development.

    As an aside, and as to the John Amos plant, I guess the argument could have been made: “Instead of scrubbers, shut it down and put the money into low-CO2 gas plants.” Of course that argument never would have succeeded politically, but if it had, then the demand for coal would have gone down, I assume. (I’m no economist.)

    Back to CCS: there are millions and millions and millions and millions (and ….) of people in India, etc. who don’t have a single light bulb in their houses, much less an LED flashlight. They are the “demand,” and their force is incredibly large and irrestistible. A tsunami.

    Because the atmosphere is a global resource, my grandchildren’s ability to live on a planet with, say, ice at the poles at least some of the year, and sea levels not too much higher than current levels, and without major warfare, even genocide, fueled by ecosystem collapses — is in the hands of those currently bulb-less folks.

    That’s why our climate policy, here in the US, MUST be designed to deal with those bulb-less folks’ desires and needs.

    That fact, even more than the well-being and interest of my many dear friends and neighbors who mine coal and work on the railroad, is a big reason why, if I had a vote (I don’t), I would vote for massive investment in CCS research — on even the off-chance that it could keep some of their CO2 out of the atmosphere.

    The stakes are that high.

  19. Red Desert says:

    Did anyone catch this from the Washington Post?

    ‘The Clunkers of the Power-Plant World’

    “If a climate-change bill drives up the cost of opening new plants, but provides free emissions allowances or potential carbon offsets for existing facilities, companies could have an incentive to squeeze even more power out of their old plants, many of which are running well below capacity.

    Some environmental groups are urging the Senate to include in its version of the legislation provisions to prevent that. But the legislation passed by the House in late June — known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act — mandates a 50 percent carbon reduction by 2025 for new plants, but puts no site-specific carbon-reduction requirements on existing facilities. ”

    Also this:

    “State Department Gives Green Light to Canada-U.S. Oil Pipeline”

    “The State Department has approved the construction of a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Canadian oil sands to refineries in the United States, prompting an outcry from environmental groups opposed to oil sands development.

    Extraction of the oil in Alberta has drawn opposition because it scars vast tracts of land and uses large quantities of energy and water. The projects have contributed to a sharp increase in greenhouse gas emissions by Canada, which as a result will not meet its own climate change targets. ”

    Why push for a bizarrely complicated reworking of 1/6 of the economy in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then turn around and adopt policies that actually increase global emissions? I don’t wonder about the Obama Administration’s priorities anymore. The priorities are not with the environment.

    The 07 energy bill created a low-carbon fuel standard for the US government. The US, including the Defense Dept, had to purchase fuels at least as clean (w/respect to carbon) as conventional gasoline/kerosene/diesel. No coal-to-liquids, no tar-sands derived fuels. The current Senate energy bill–which everyone says will be folded into W-M–repeals that 07 LCF standard.

  20. Anonymouse says:


    I’d made a comment on an earlier post to the effect of “Do we really think India and China need our help in developing CCS?” China is, from what I understand, way ahead of us in regards to CCS research and development, and I expect that it will be easier for China to market it’s technology in India than it will be for us. Further, as I’ve asked before, why not further develop renewable technologies instead of CCS in order to quell the Indian “tsunami” that you expect is on its way? Put money into making wind and solar tech’s more efficient and cost-effective. Also, there is a huge environmental and community impact of a continued reliance on coal in India.

    Coal India is the government-run coal producer and produces most of their coal with open-cast coal mining. See their website, which has production data, here:

    They produce around 400 million tons of coal a year, which generates over 1.2 billion tons of CO2 each year. With a rough estimate, the AEP plant wants to now sequester about 2 ‘million’ tons each year to get to their 20% sequestration rate? And that will cost a total of about $668 Million? (original plan was for about 100,000 tons,

    So say our goal is to sequester half of the CO2 coming from Indian coal, or about 600 million tons of CO2 per year. Based on the price-per-ton to develop CCS for AEP (about $334/ton), to develop enough CCS to sequester half of the CO2 output from India would cost $200.4 Billion. And then of course, you have the extra fuel costs related to the inefficiency of the technology.

    That’s enough money to develop over 1oo Gigawatts of wind power, which is enough to prevent the annual burning of 132 million tons of coal, which would prevent the annual emission of nearly 400 million tons of CO2. That’s 200 million tons less than developing the CCS, but then again, you can always develop more wind each year with the savings you get from not having to buy the coal to burn. What would that annual savings be? At say $50/ton US, and about 130 million tons of coal left unmined and unburned each year, thats another $6.5 billion saved, or another 3,250 MW of wind developed, or another 12 million tons of CO2 left out of the atmosphere each year.

    And, you forego the other social and environmental costs related to the mining, processing, and burning of the coal.

    Thoughts? Which deal sounds better? Which technologies should we be developing and exporting to India? CCS? or Wind and Solar?

  21. Anonymouse says:

    For more on coal in India:

    “As many as 21 new opencast coalmines are threatening to transform Chandrapur city and district into one big coal quarry and overburden dumping ground. Four of these, argue conservationists, would cut the crucial tiger corridors that link the north and south Chandrapur forest divisions. Three of the four captive mines – Lohara-Lohara Extension, Lohara (west) and Agarzari – are in buffer zone of the TATR. ”

  22. Thomas Rodd says:

    Anonymouse, I’d appreciate your pointing to some economists, academics, foreign policy people — folks with resumes, track records, and credentials — who agree that the US should just drop CCS and let these countries go that route alone. Personally, I think the British guy I quoted at the beginning is probably more realistic accurate about the need to set a good example and bring US levels of inventiveness and technology to bear. Also, I don’t think anyone is saying that CCS, if proved feasible, will cost $334/ton. I think that is way high. Using that kind of number as the basis for policy analysis might make it harder to give weight to your arguments.

  23. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I think some environmental groups have made that argument … Greenpeace, for example, calls CCS a “dangerous distraction,” in a report posted here:

    I’ve noted before that the IPCC does not agree with that. They support research on CCS, but have all sorts of concerns about it.

    The Union of Concerned Scientists supports more research and development of CCS, especially if this is joined with a ban on NEW coal plants that don’t have CCS (which means no new coal plants for now, really) and if the research is in cooperation with developing nations like China and India.

    However, in this report:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists does make this interesting point (see page 34):

    One of the greatest risks associated with pursuing CCS is that it will prevent the nation giving appropriate attention to truly clean and sustainable energy options (wind, concentrated solar, photovoltaic solar, geothermal, tidal power, biomass, and biofuels) and the myriad emerging technologies that can make us more efficient in our use of energy.

    I would argue that UCS is a group with resumes, track records and credentials.

    This isn’t exactly the point Anonymouse was making — but it is a very strong caution that should be considered, don’t you think?

    The UCS, by the way, adds that:

    Given the fact that global warming is one of the greatest threats humanity has ever faces, investing about $10 BILLION in R and D and demonstration of EACH technology that shows promise for reducing CO2 (including CCS) would not be an unreasonable response.

    The stakes are that high.


  24. Clem Guttata says:

    I agree with Anonymouse. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that CCS is an expensive bet compared to ramping up already proven technologies. The *only* reason CCS is even in the mix is because of political considerations, not scientific ones.

    CCS is incredibly resource intensive–it requires resources that we will inevitably run out of. It is a short-sighted solution compared to renewable technologies that can power humanity not just for a decade or two, but for centuries (if not millennium).

  25. Red Desert says:

    The UCS proposal for a ban on coal plants without CCS doesn’t make complete sense to me. It’s too focused on coal rather than carbon. Better, I think, to establish performance standards–allow only so much carbon to be emitted per unit of electricity produced–and apply that to ANY new fossil fuel plant. Crank those standards up over time. Then any technology or combination of technologies–waste stream heat capture, combined cycle, improved performance, partial CCS, co-firing (I’m rapidly getting out of my league here) can be used. A tough standard–basically the combined cycle gas plant standard, the standard used in California–was in W-M, but that was replaced by something weaker that I’m not completely clear on.

    Keep in mind, even if the US got all of its coal generated power from gas instead, we’d still have a long way to go to get to an 80% reduction by 2050.

    I’m all for serious research, but don’t put all the eggs in one basket:

    CCS: Your Utilitiy Company’s Promise for Tomorrow, The Pollution of Today!

  26. Anonymouse says:

    Thanks Ken. And Tom, the $334/ton number is gleaned directly from the proposed cost of the AEP 20% project. So that’s a real world example rather than a shot-in-the-dark estimate. They estimate that it will cost $668 Million for a CCS project that captures 2 million tons of CO2 a year.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I am pretty wrong, so let’s redo that.

    If you’re comfortable with a 10-year time frame, then the base cost per ton would be $33.40. That only includes development costs. None of the calculations from here on will include operations and maintenance, so keep that in mind if you would.

    Add in the fuel costs. Say they use half high-sulfur and half low-sulfur coal. Average price per ton of coal with that mix, right now, $49.40. To make it easy lets say $50/ton, as we can also expect the price of coal to continue rising on average over ten years, so we’re being conservative here.

    By my quick estimate, AEP burns 3 million tons of coal each year at their Mountaineer plant. The IPCC says CCS plants use 10-40% more energy (coal in WV) than conventional plants. Using a 20% inefficiency rate for the calculations, which I think is fair in this case, especially for a pilot project, that means that the plant would require 600,000 tons of extra coal each year, at a price of $30 million.

    For 2 million tons of CO2 per year, that’s an extra $15/ton on top of the $33.4 from the development cost. Of course, I admit that the development cost could be spread over 20 years and thus cut in half for its CO2 price, but for an unproven technology with unproven storage capacity, I’m sticking with 10 years. Total price tag now, $48.40 per ton of CO2 sequestered. We’ll even do a range using a 20 year time frame. So $33.20 to $48.40 per ton of CO2.

    Lets take that national. Say we want to sequester 50% of the nation’s current CO2 emissions from electricity generation resulting from burning coal. The total in 2007 (under a strong economy) was just under 2.2 billion short tons ( I converted the metric ton number there to short tons (2.2 short tons per metric ton).

    So we want to sequester 1 billion tons of CO2 nation-wide from coal-fired electricity generation. At $33.20 per ton, that’s $33.2 billion, annually. Over 20 years, $664 billion, for 20 billion tons of CO2.

    Using the wind example again, that $664 billion could be used to develop 332 Gigawatts of wind power at $2 million per MW (which is a slightly higher price than the current national average according to NREL).

    At a 30% capacity factor, that 332 Gigawatts could prevent 436.3 million tons of coal from being burned each year, or about 40% of our current national coal consumption for electricity generation, and thus approximately 40% of our current CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    If I’m anywhere close to being right, this has huge implications. First of all we fall short of our CO2 prevention goal of 50%, by 10%. However, on balance, the positives are that:

    1) We stop mining 40% of the coal we’re currently mining, at least for national purposes. This would prevent major disturbances to our land (think about the CO2 released from clear-cut and burned forests), communities, water resources, etc. It would prevent that much injection of coal slurry, or creation of coal sludge impoundments, or coal ash ponds. It would prevent another 40% of the mercury, sulfur, nitrogen oxide, etc, emissions and/or storage. This could go on and on, but remember that these things cost money to restore or maintain, money that isn’t considered but that has a real economic impact. For example, $2 million to bring clean water to Prenter could have been used to train 400 new clean energy workers under the federal Workforce Investment Act. Or to reforest 2,500 acres of surface-mined land under the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative.

    2) The price of electricity would become more stable, as the wind resource is free, whereas the price of coal will continue to rise.

    3) We wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining vast underground CO2-storage reservoirs.

    4) A good portion of the 25,000 people that currently die prematurely due to respiratory diseases caused by coal-fired power plants, as estimated by the EPA, would be able to breathe easier and live longer.

    5) Thousands of kids would be able to grow up with normal brain function because they weren’t affected by mercury-tainted breast milk.

    This list could go on for a long time, but I think the point is clear.

    Now, my challenge is for anyone reading this to go out there and find me an honest publication promoting CCS. “Honest” being defined as one that takes into account all of the true costs of coal in their determination that we should support CCS. If they fail to do so, they lose their credibility, no matter how long their resume or how established their reputation.

    If you can find me one single report by a respected researcher that says, “These are the true costs of relying on CCS, and I still support its development,” or one that says “Of course we could prevent those CO2 emissions by putting the money into renewables, but I still support CCS,” or actually, a report that does both, then I’ll accept your arguments in favor of CCS, or at least, I’ll respect them.

    If not, then perhaps you should reconsider your own acceptance of their research and assertions. Because without a full accounting of the impact of developing CCS, or without a full consideration of the alternatives, that research is not credible, no matter how many letters come in front of the author’s name.

  27. Red Desert says:


    The per ton cost of CCS in your last post is probably too low. I think your back-of-the-envelope calcs also underestimate the extra coal and sequestration required–but more on that below.

    The MIT Study that Ken wrote about estimated commercial (nth plant) costs at $60 to $70 per ton. The Kennedy School of Government study (the “Harvard” study also featured on C Tattoo) estimated the costs at well over $100 per ton–more like $150 if I remember correctly.

    The MIT study said CCS was practical (though costly) for half the nation’s existing fleet and for plants that come on line in the future. The Kennedy School study was only for future IGCC plants with some side estimates for CCS retrofit on existing super-critical pulverized coal plants.

    CCS seems to be very expensive. My lay person’s guess is that utilities will prefer to purchase offsets–especially given that W-M bends over backwards to keep them cheap and available. However, I admit the very generous free allowances for CCS under W-M will be attractive for utilities. Indeed, they probably wrote those provisions.

    I still can’t get around the enormous parasitic energy demand. In your calcs, you estimate a loss of efficiency of 20%. To make up for that, you need 25% more coal [(1-.2)x1.25 = 1.0], not 20% more coal. Don’t forget, you also need to sequester 25% more CO2 (since your burning 25% more coal) if your overall goal (in tons of CO2 removed) remains the same.

    The only argument for I see for CCS–unless there are some very significant technological advances– is that it allows humanity to keep burning coal.

  28. Thomas Rodd says:

    All good points, Red Desert, illustrating well why investors are shy of CCS — which is why subsidy is necessary, to see if CCS can indeed be made to work, and at what cost. Speculation isn’t going to answer the question; and if there’s a big enough payoff, folks will be all over it to try to make it work. We shall see.

  29. Thomas Rodd says:

    One more thing — CCS will not “allow” people to keep on burning coal. On a global basis, they are quite likely going to do that with or without CCS, as Anonymouse has shown. CCS, if it is economically feasible, would “allow” them to do it with reduced CO2. I recognize the force of the data that supports CCS skepticism, ably presented in this discussion. I have come to my present feelings simply because, to repeat ad nauseam, so much is at stake, I can’t see not giving it a “heck of a try, Brownie!”

  30. Red Desert says:

    Let me beat a dead horse one more time then I’m going out for a bike ride.

    You can have funding for CCS research. Ample funding. Serious research makes sense for the many good reasons Thomas Rodd writes about. Even if it doesn’t pay off. But CCS is very unproven and the scale of the problem is enormous. For CCS to be effective, we probably have to make other changes too: reducing demand, switching to cleaner fuels, making power plants more efficient. And also the aggressive development of alternatives that A-mouse writes about. By doing all this, we reduce the scale CCS needed. It becomes more realistic. For every dollar spent on CCS research, we should spend $2 researching improved power plant performance, improved power plant efficiency.

    I admit to a desire not to see the industrialization of the entire planet. That accounts for part of my bias against CCS. Another bias: I know we can be doing things today to improve our energy (including coal) portfolio–making it cleaner and more efficient. The utilities seem to resist acting today with a promise of clean coal tomorrow. I think this narrow emphasis on CCS in W-M is absolutely frightening–it commits us to one long, expensive and possibly lonely dead-end path.

    have a good weekend.

  31. A-mouse says:

    Thanks Red, I’ll do some re-calc’s. I believe I understand your calculation, but I think that the studies (and I may have mis-spoke before) actually say that CCS plants use 10-40% more energy, not that they’re 10-40% inefficient. I’ll have to check on that. Either way, I’m still unsure if I understand why you did that calc.

    Secondly, nice posts.

  32. A-mouse says:

    And thanks for reminding me and everyone else that I’d forgotten to include the extra CO2 from the extra coal being burned to power the compression and sequestration processes. Cant believe I forgot that. I also agree with the comment about the price-per-ton, I was being conservative and I don’t pretend to know all of the price factors that go into the other estimates. Thanks for pointing those two things out.

  33. Clem Guttata says:

    For anyone doing the math (again), see this article:

    “The Alstom approach sucks up about 15 percent of the power plant’s energy output; other processes use as much as 30 percent. That means the utility must purchase other energy sources to cover the shortfall. (The energy lost is part of the $700 million cost, AEP executives said.)”

    I’m working on a longer write-up summarizing the many concerns about CCS and this project… hope to have it done in next 12-48 hrs.

  34. Earthling says:

    My memory is that the studies say CCS requires 15-40% more energy. That can be considered a loss of efficiency. So Anonymouse, when you said, “Using a 20% inefficiency rate for the calculations,” had you just picked 20% as being a conservative estimate between 10 & 40%? If not, where did it come from?

  35. Red Desert says:

    The estimates of the parasitic load are all over the map. Just about any number is fine and just about any number–even 10%–is a really, really big number. Think about how hard it will be to get to the 17% RPS standard we are talking about, yet folks talk about adding 20% load to coal generation like its no big deal.

    Go back and look at the Congressional testimony (Ken’s “Honest talk about CCS” or similar) from the AEP guy a couple weeks ago. He said the one prototype technology that they have tested used 33% of a plant’s output which requires a staggering 50% more coal [(1.0-.33) x 1.5 = 1.0] to get back to the same amount of usable electricity generation. He does the calc the same way I did: 1.5 is the reciprocal of 0.67 just as 1.25 is the reciprocal of 0.8. Multiplying a fraction by its reciprocal gets you back to 1.0 or, in this case, 100% of original output.

    The AEP guy said they wanted to test another system–ammonia something–that might use only 20% of a plant’s output but there was no guarantee it would work.

  36. Red Desert says:

    Clem’s Wash Po article is more or less in agreement. The article says 15% (chilled ammonia) vs 30% for the tested process; I believe the AEP engineer’s testimony says 33% for the tested process; hoping to reduce that by 15% with chilled ammonia.

  37. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Wow … great discussion … try to keep the length down a little bit, though Anonymouse, OK?

    Clem, I think this statement you made is simply incorrect:

    The *only* reason CCS is even in the mix is because of political considerations, not scientific ones.

    If you believe the IPCC is the standard for science on climate change, then you have to believe there is a scientific basis for CCS research. The IPCC is an advocate of these things … and believes that CCS is a “key mitigation strategy.”

    So, there is indeed a major scientific basis for arguing for more research into CCS.

    I think the real issue is first, if it turns out not to work, what then?

    And that ties in with the second thing — we’re obviously not spending $10 billion in each possible area of R and D that could help. And given that we’re spending limited amounts of money, how much sense does it make to put so much emphasis on one of these technologies?

    That seems like a debate that reasonable people can have and hopefully try to resolve. Will our Congress do that in a reasonable way? Hmmmm….

  38. Clem Guttata says:

    Ken — Fair enough, my comment was a bit too short-handed.

    I do firmly believe that politics are getting in the way of sound science. (Science is not immune to politics–esp. when it comes to decisions about where to invest research dollars.)

    If you look at scientific recommendations that take into account negative externalities, coal + CCS is just about the worst possible option. Here’s an article (summarizing an article from the Energy & Environmental Science journal) that goes into more detail about what I mean:

  39. […] front-page New York Times story on AEP’s major carbon capture and sequestration test at its Mountaineer Plant in Mason County, Hoppy outlined the challenges pretty well. Mountaineer is starting small; it will capture about […]

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