Coal Tattoo

U.N. climate diplomat: Coal needs to clean up its act

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Poland Coal and Climate

Young girls  protest in front of the Polish Ministry of Economy in Warsaw,  Monday Nov. 18, 2013 where a  Coal  Industry meeting  is taking place in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.  The U.N.’s chief climate diplomat on Monday urged the coal industry to diversify toward cleaner energy sources and leave most of the world’s remaining coal reserves in the ground. On the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference, Christiana Figueres told dozens of CEOs of coal companies meeting at Poland’s Economy Ministry that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet.  ( AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Making the rounds today is news of an important speech that the U.N.’s chief climate diplomat delivered today to a coal industry group that scheduled its own meeting to coincide with the internatinoal climate conference taking place in Warsaw, Poland. Here’s how The Associated Press reported it:

FigThe U.N.’s chief climate diplomat on Monday urged the coal industry to diversify toward cleaner energy sources and leave most of the world’s remaining coal reserves in the ground.

On the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference, Christiana Figueres told dozens of CEOs of coal companies meeting at Poland’s Economy Ministry that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet.

“The world is rising to meet the climate challenge as risks of inaction mount, and it is in your best interest to make coal part of the solution,” Figueres said.

Reuters described it this way:

The U.N. climate chief urged a radical clean-up of the coal industry on Monday to help limit global warming, at an industry meeting in Warsaw condemned by environmentalists as a distraction from the nearby U.N. climate change conference.

Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N.’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the coal summit that the industry had to change “rapidly and dramatically” to limit high pollution and carbon emissions, including in heavily coal-dependent Poland.

She urged the industry to “leave most existing reserves in the ground”, to shut inefficient plants and to capture and bury all emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants, a technology that has proved too costly so far for wide use.

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Report: Coal’s future hangs on need for CO2 limits

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Another report out today confirms again what we’ve talked about many times (see here, here and here)  before here on Coal Tattoo: If coal industry supporters want to protect mining’s future, they need to insist that the government finally get around to setting some sort of limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

The new report, from the Global CCS Institute, explains again that the main thing holding back work on carbon capture and storage technology is the lack of a clear path for government regulation of global warming pollution.  You can read the full report here, and this is a quick quote from their press release:

Notwithstanding recent strong progress, with four additional projects becoming operational since 2012 – an increase of 50 per cent in one year – Mr Page said momentum was too slow if CCS was to play its full part in tackling climate change at lowest cost.

“Seventy per cent of CCS proponents agree that policy uncertainty is a major risk to their project. Indeed, ongoing uncertainty about the timing, nature, extent and durability of emissions reduction policies is limiting investment in CCS and stalling its development and deployment. This must be addressed.”

Obama-Climate Change-Winners and Losers

While I was out last week, my email inbox certainly filed up with statements about the big U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcement regarding its continued movement toward the first-ever limits on global warming pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Most of the reaction from West Virginia political and business leaders was hardly surprising.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Democratic leaders, generally, were all about attacking their own party’s president, bashing EPA, and generally trying to protect themselves from any criticism that they aren’t all about coal. The career campaign consultants who run our state’s Republican party, meanwhile, continued to basically show that they don’t really have any ideas on these issues, and just want to try to ride anti-Obama sentiment into office.

For example, here’s Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va. :

rahall_photo2I am dead-set against the EPA and their scheme to issue emissions standards that would make it next to impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be constructed. In mandating that new power plants utilize technology that is not even commercially available, let alone affordable, the Agency is preventing abundant American coal from meeting America’s future energy needs. The result of this wrong-headed policy would be higher energy bills for families and businesses, reduced power reliability and energy independence for our nation, and lost jobs for our coal miners.

This callous, ideologically driven Agency continues to be numb to the economic pain that their reckless regulations cause. Today’s rule is just the latest salvo in the EPA’s war on coal, a war I have unwaveringly soldiered against, and I will work tirelessly to prevent such an ill-conceived and illogical plan from moving forward.

And here’s Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

capito2EPA’s action strikes at the core of West Virginia and is yet another sign that this Administration simply doesn’t care about the hard working men and women who earn their living in the coal industry, doesn’t care about providing reliable and affordable energy to power the national economy for years to come, and doesn’t care about harming the very fabric of communities across our state.
 
West Virginia families and businesses have already paid a heavy price due to EPA’s overbearing regulations.  We must take into account the economic impact of government regulations on local communities, and we should not take an action that hinders our nation’s ability to compete globally.  

Keeps getting harder and harder to tell the difference, doesn’t it?

What becomes more and more maddening is the lengths to which our political leaders will twist reality and bend logic in their quest to pledge their allegiance to the coal industry.

Mine ExplosionTake the statement issued about last week’s EPA announcement by Sen. Joe Manchin, D.W.Va. You can read the whole thing for yourself here. What’s fascinating about it is that in one sentence, Sen. Manchin proclaims:

Forcing coal to meet nearly the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy.

But then a few sentenced later, he insists:

It’s just common sense to level the playing field and accept that coal is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a significant part of our energy mix.

OK, now. Which is it? Does Sen. Manchin want a level playing field, where all sources of energy compete fairly? Or does he want a tilted playing field where coal is made competitive by allowing the true costs of using it to be externalized, in this case by contributing to global warming pollution and the climate crisis?

About the only West Virginia leader who was coming anywhere close to making sense on all of this was retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who issued this statement on the EPA announcement:

rockefellersept2013I’ve always said that any clean coal policy must, at its core, have the interests of miners and their families in mind — and that new technology is the best and only way to secure their future.

The EPA’s new carbon emission plan includes tough requirements for future coal-fired power plants and pushes us hard toward clean coal technologies that have great potential but are not yet deployed at full-scale, and are difficult to finance.

These rules will only work if we act now to strengthen our investment in clean coal technology and to advance public-private partnerships more seriously than ever. We need everyone with a stake in clean coal to come together for these solutions to become a reality.

This rule is undeniably a daunting challenge, but it’s also a call to action. West Virginia and America have overcome far greater technological obstacles than this one, and I refuse to believe we can’t do it again.

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If W.Va. Democrats really want to help coal

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Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where West Virginia could really start in getting on the road toward even having a more reasonable discussion of the future of coal, let alone developing better policies for that future, to help coalfield communities truly prosper and do our state’s part to deal with the climate crisis.

Yesterday’s trip to Washington — and especially the media show that followed — was yet another missed opportunity for Sen. Manchin, Rep. Rahall, Gov. Tomblin, Speaker Miley and other leaders to stop muddling the facts, end the pandering and provide West Virginians with some straight talk about the problems ahead and the path toward a brighter future.

I’m reminded, as I often am, of the words of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who advised West Virginians to embrace the future:

Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.  One thing is clear.  The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.

One way West Virginia could try to anticipate change and adapt to it is to become a leader — a real leader — on carbon capture and storage technology. I know, I know … CCS is too expensive. There are too many questions about whether it can be widely deployed, about whether it’s safe, about whether it really works. And, of course, just capturing carbon emissions doesn’t do anything to address the environmental damage from mountaintop removal or coal ash pollution, or the health costs to mine workers and the communities near mining operations.

But some pretty smart people still say CCS is something that our society here in the U.S. and around the world needs to pursue aggressively.

Environmentalists are fond of quoting the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so here’s what the IPCC said most recently about CCS:

To continue to extract and combust the world’s rich endowment of oil, coal, peat, and natural gas at current or increasing rates, and so release more of the stored carbon into the atmosphere, is no longer environmentally sustainable, unless carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies currently being developed can be widely deployed.

 And here’s what the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a major report issued in October 2008:

An important potential benefit of developing CCS technology is that it may someday be applied to power plants that burn or gasify biomass (plant-based materials). Such a power plant could actually be carbonnegative because the plant matter comprising the biomass will have taken CO2 from the air through the process of  photosynthesis, and CCS technology will then capture the CO2 and store it underground. Having the ability to achieve negative CO2 emissions in future decades may well be needed if we are to keep global CO2 concentrations at relatively safe levels.

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Gazette photo by Kenny Kemp

If you missed the news Friday afternoon, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced that he and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had filed a “friend of the court” brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take in a case that challenges the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s latest rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions. AG Morrisey’s prepared statement said:

The amicus brief asking for a writ of certiorari was filed Thursday, May 23, and follows a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in favor of the EPA in four consolidated cases. If allowed to stand, the D.C. Circuit’s ruling will fundamentally alter the Constitution’s separation of powers and grant unprecedented authority to the EPA and other federal agencies.

Significantly, the states contend the EPA’s “tailoring rule” contradicts explicit provisions of the Clean Air Act and establishes new compliance levels for greenhouse gas emissions that are significantly higher than the levels specified in the statute.

Now, make no mistake, what this case is really about it an all-out effort by conservative groups and some states to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that the federal agency has a duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. As a Reuters analysis explained:

The petitions give the court various options for cutting back on, or even overturning the 2007 ruling, according to John Dernbach, a law professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania, who represented climate scientists in the 2007 case.

If the court decides to hear any of the petitions, it “would be opening a really big can of worms,” he said.

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More hard truths about CCS and coal

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There’s a new paper out in the journal Energy Policy, and the title says it all:  Ten times more difficult: Quantifying the carbon capture and storage challenge.

The paper is available only by subscription, but here’s the abstract:

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is receiving much attention and is being promoted as an important low-carbon technology. This paper communicates key insights and conclusions from a larger study that conducted review work, policy analysis, and interviews with actors in the global CCS community (Varnäs et al., 2012). No judgment is made of the desirability of choosing CCS as a low carbon technology option, but if this technology is indeed pursued, four challenges are found to be 10 times greater than often recognized.

These are:  (i) a tenfold up-scaling in size (MW) from pilot plants to that of commercial demonstration, (ii) a tenfold increase in number of large scale demonstration plants actually being constructed, (iii) a tenfold increase in available annual funding over the coming 40 years and, (iv) a tenfold increase in the price put on carbon dioxide emissions.

It is clear that the current development path will not fulfill expectations of CCS being commercially available at the end of this decade, nor will CCS be widely applied in time for significant contributions to needed CO2 emission reductions. CCS will only be developed if policymakers continue to favor coal based power generation while simultaneously developing stringent climate policy.

In short, according to this summary:

The possibility for CCS to be commercially available by 2020 is greatly exaggerated.  Reducing CO2 emissions with CCS is a political challenge, not a technological one.

Study on Carbon capture: The sooner, the better

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On the heels of his big speech criticizing the coal industry’s public relations campaign, Sen. Jay Rockefeller made a pitch to various interested groups asking for ideas about how to get moving on improving and deploying carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology — which the senator unfortunately insists on calling “clean coal” (one of these days, perhaps Sen. Rockefeller will get around to reading the studies about mountaintop removal’s impacts on water quality and public health).

Well, there’s a new study out that adds to the notion that there is a bit of urgency in getting moving on CCS, if this technology is going to be part of the solution to global warming and, in the process, help save the coal industry. Here’s how Chemical and Engineering News summarized the new study:

If coal-fired power plants began now to deploy systems for capturing and storing greenhouse gases, they’d see a drop in efficiency, requiring them to burn more coal to meet electricity needs. Still, doing so would prevent enough greenhouse gas emissions to have a substantial climate payoff by 2100, according to a new climate modeling study.

OK, now we know that there are lots of issues with CCS, including safety, expense and the massive build-up scale necessary. But it’s also something that more than a few smart people believe is a necessary part of addressing climate change — and it’s perhaps also something to use as a political tool to get coalfield politicians to go along with mandatory reductions in greenhouse emissions.

But it’s worth reading this study (see here) to get an idea of how actually getting CCS up and running at power plants sooner — rather than later — will do much more to reduce coal’s long-term impacts. As that C&EN story explained:

The researchers found that, compared to no action, the early retrofit scenario reduced long-term heating by nearly 50% Outfitting only new plants reduced heating by about 25%. The reason for the large difference in results is that carbon dioxide lasts for roughly 100 years in the atmosphere, Sathre explains: Any gases not removed by scrubbers early on in the model’s span heat the atmosphere throughout the rest of the century.

Because of CO2’s long lifetime and other factors, such as improving CCS technologies, the researchers found that the differences among scenarios became especially pronounced after the year 2050.

And not for nothing, but one conclusion that Sen. Rockefeller might want to consider if he’s truly looking to move CCS forward:

The study is “certainly timely,” says Eric Eddings, an engineer at the University of Utah, because of ongoing political debate over how to address climate change. He says deployment of CCS systems would involve countless political hurdles: Plant operators, he says, don’t want to invest in the technology unless the law requires them to do so.

The press office for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was kind enough yesterday to send around an email message alerting we in the media to a recent appearance by Rep. Capito on FoxNews:

On Friday, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., joined a panel of experts for a one-hour special on three topics where the Obama Administration has let down the American people.  Those three topics are the EPA’s war on coal, defunding of NASA, rejecting the Keystone pipeline. 

In that appearance, Rep. Capito certainly showed no interesting in toning down the overheated rhetoric that pervades discussions of coal issues here in West Virginia, agreeing with television personality Sean Hannity that the Obama administration’s policies aren’t just a “war on coal,” but an “all-out war on coal.” Rep. Capito explained:

It is a war on American’s energy and it’s a war on coal. These are communities that are blessed with a natural resource that want to live and work in a community they love, where their families are from, and they’re having to leave. I mean just in the last month, at least a thousand laid-off coal miners. Those are families.

Rep. Capito was then asked if this was “clean coal” and she replied:

We have the ability. We can do better at that. There’s more technology and research, but not if you don’t fund the tech and research. I had an experimentation in my district on coal sequestration . they had to pull the plug on it because the dollars weren’t there. It’s not economically feasible. We’ve got to move forward on this. I think it’s detrimental to us.

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Appalachian Power and the future of coal

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We had an interesting story in today’s Gazette based on comments from Appalachian Power President Charles Patton during a meeting yesterday with some newspaper editors here.

During our discussion, Mr. Patton made it clear — as AEP has going back to the day it announced the closures — that the aging, inefficient coal-fired power plants it has targeted for retirement were headed that way, regardless of any new air pollution restrictions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As we reported:

“The stuff that isn’t scrubbed, the greenhouse gases aren’t the issue,” Patton said. “They’re just so old that it doesn’t make sense to spend the money to make them comply with the existing rules. Under any scenario you looked at, regardless of EPA rules, all those plants were gone anyway.”

Patton also was clear about what’s driving the economics right now for utilities:

Patton predicted that no companies would build any new coal-fired generation anytime soon. He said that low natural gas prices, and not EPA’s proposed rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions are the reason.

“Nobody is building any new coal,” Patton said. “The economics just aren’t there.

“Gas is just so cheap,” he said. “You cannot deny that natural gas is the fuel of choice.”

Patton said that advances in natural gas drilling — such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — that have created a boom in the Marcellus Shale region have reduced industry concerns about the price volatility of natural gas over the long term.

“I don’t care what you read, I don’t think anybody is going to build a coal plant, given natural gas prices,” Patton said. “It’s just economics.”

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The good folks at the Worldwatch Institute have this important report out this week:

Global funding for carbon capture and storage technology, a tool for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, remained unchanged at US$23.5 billion in 2011 in comparison to the previous year, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute. Although there are currently 75 large-scale, fully integrated carbon capture and storage projects in 17 countries at various stages of development, only eight are operational—a figure that has not changed since 2009.

… Although CCS technology has the potential to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions—particularly when used in greenhouse gas-intensive coal plants—developing the CCS sector to the point that it can make a serious contribution to emissions reduction will require large-scale investment. Capacity will have to be increased several times over before CCS can begin to make a dent in global emissions. Currently, the storage capacity of all active and planned large-scale CCS projects is equivalent to only about 0.5 percent of the emissions from energy production in 2010.

Importantly, the report says:

The prospects for future development and application of CCS technology will be influenced by a variety of factors, according to the report. This March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. As a result, U.S. power producers would soon be unable to build traditional coal plants without carbon-control capabilities (including CCS). The technology will likely become increasingly important as power producers adjust to the new regulations.

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In this March 13, 2012 photo, a coal barge makes its way to the Bruce Mansfield Power Station in Shippingport , Pa.  (AP Photo)

As I’ve read, listened to and watched the reactions the last two days from West Virginia political leaders reacting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to limit power plant greenhouse emissions, it’s actually been a little hard to sort out exactly what they’re saying.

Some officials, like Rep. Nick J. Rahall, switch back and forth between talking about the greenhouse gas proposal and blustering about strip-mining permits that it’s hard to keep up with which one they are referring to at any one time.  Others seem to intent on blasting EPA and the Obama administration that they get confused themselves about what they support and don’t support.

For example, as the Daily Mail’s Ry Rivard pointed out on Twitter,  Sen. Joe Manchin had this to say about the natural gas industry in his statement on the EPA greenhouse gas proposal:

This approach relies totally on cheap natural gas and we’ve seen that bubble burst before. It might sound good now, but what happens if those prices go up? Your average hardworking families and manufacturers will be left holding the bag of uncertainty – either in the prices they pay or in the reliability of our electrical system.

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While the rest of West Virginia’s political leaders are busy bashing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, here’s what Sen. Jay Rockefeller had to say about the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas emissions limits:

We have known since the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gas emissions would be cut to meet environmental standards, and we know that coal faces intense competition from other energy sources, as investments are increasingly moving to cheaper natural gas.  In the near-term, EPA has exempted all coal-fired plants that are operating today or under construction.  But for the future, the key question is whether the new emissions standard is set so high that even the best known clean coal technologies can’t meet it, which would be bad for coal and bad for the environment.

CCS and other new technologies hold real and important potential for cleaner coal in the U.S. and across the globe, but the utility industry needs to have certainty for financing and deploying these technologies on a commercial scale or we won’t achieve new targets.  We need to grab hold of our own future by working together to drive clean coal technology forward.

Multiple media outlets are reporting this morning that the Obama administration is ready to issue its proposed regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post broke the story last night:

The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as Tuesday, according to several people briefed on the proposal. The move could end the construction of conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

The story continues:

Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls.

“This standard effectively bans new coal plants,” said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton and Williams and represents several utility companies. “So I don’t see how that is an ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

The rule provides an exception for coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. There are about 20 coal plants now pursuing permits; two of them are federally subsidized and would meet the new standard with advanced pollution controls.

An administration official who asked not to be identified because the rule hasn’t been announced wrote in an e-mail Monday night: “This standard provides a clear and certain path forward for industry and the important domestic energy sources they rely on” for electricity generation.

President Obama does not mention coal as a key component of the nation’s energy supply in speeches about his commitment to exploiting oil and gas reserves and renewable sources.

So … stand by the a flurry of attack statements from the coal industry and from coalfield politicians, who will undoubtedly trash this regulatory proposal — most of them before they’ve really even seen it.

In West Virginia, coal industry defenders were on a high coming into this week, basking in the glow of their victory in federal court over the EPA’s veto of the Spruce Mine permit (see the comments from Hoppy Kercheval and from the Daily Mail’s editorial page, while remembering that Don Surber says he doesn’t need facts, because he’s not a journalist).  Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wasn’t content to praise that federal court ruling, but also felt he needed to remind us that he’s pursuing a separate court case to block any and all efforts by the EPA to address environmental and public health damage from mountaintop removal.

Over in Washington, though, EPA has been quietly working to do what Congress (with much help from coalfield lawmakers) refused to do: Take action to at least begin to try to deal with an even bigger economic externality of coal and our appetite for it: Global warming.

We’ll have to wait to see the exact details of the EPA proposal, but Dina Cappiello from the AP reports:

The regulation is likely to draw fire from Republicans, who have claimed it will increase electricity prices and clamp down on domestic energy resources.

But it also will fall short of environmentalists’ hopes because it goes easier than it could have on coal-fired power generation. Coal-burning plants are already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

The proposed rule will not apply to existing power plants or new ones built in the next year. It will also give future coal-fired power plants years to meet the standard, which will eventually require carbon pollution to be captured and stored underground.

Keep in mind how much coal industry officials and their friends among regional politicians have talked up carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS.  If all EPA is doing is issuing a rule to eventually require that technology, why would the industry oppose it?

Stay tuned …

UPDATED — Here’s a link to the EPA proposal and this is the agency’s statement about it:

EPA is proposing to take common-sense steps under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. EPA’s proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of American-made technologies. The agency’s proposal, which does not apply to plants currently operating or new permitted plants that begin construction over the next 12 months, is flexible and would help minimize carbon pollution through the deployment of the same types of modern technologies and steps that power companies are already taking to build the next generation of power plants. EPA’s proposal would ensure that this progress toward a cleaner, safer and more modern power sector continues.

Power plants are the largest individual sources of carbon pollution in the United States and currently there are no uniform national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to emit. Consistent with the US Supreme Court’s decision, in 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.


CCS update: Coal supporters dropping the ball?

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On Friday, I had a fun and interesting discussion via Twitter with my good friend Ry Rivard, statehouse reporter across the hall at the Charleston Daily Mail.

Young Ry  had “retweeted” a link to a Guardian story headlined, Flagship UK carbon capture project ‘close to collapse‘, which reported:

A £1bn flagship government project for fighting climate change – the construction of a prototype carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Longannet in Scotland – is on the verge of collapse, it emerged on Thursday.

Talks between the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and Scottish Power have run into deep trouble and the electricity supplier is expected to pull the plug on the government-promoted scheme, which hoped to bury carbon emissions from the coal power station in the North Sea.

The potential demise of the scheme comes amid growing fears among renewable power enthusiasts that David Cameron and George Osborne want to scale back the “green” agenda on the grounds that low-carbon energy schemes such as CCS and offshore wind cost too much at a time of austerity. Osborne told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that if he had his way the UK would cut “carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe”.

I tweeted back at Ry, pointing out an earlier Guardian story headlined, Carbon capture progress has lost momentum, says energy agency. That story reported:

The financial crisis and fading government support for climate action have seriously eroded global plans to capture and store carbon, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Thursday.

Sequestration – the depositing of greenhouse gases underground rather than into the atmosphere – was supposed to account for a fifth of the world’s emissions reductions under the agency’s roadmap for keeping global temperature rise within 2C (4F) by the end of the century.

But delegates including the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, heard at a meeting, held in Beijing, that the global temperature is on course to rise by 3.5C, due to poor progress both on carbon capture and storage, and on acceptance of a carbon price and other carbon-cutting efforts.

Importantly, the story said:

IEA deputy executive director, Richard Jones, told the meeting, hosted by the Washington-based Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, that this would wreak havoc on human wellbeing. He added that time was running out to avoid this scenario because of slow progress on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

“Every year that passes makes it more difficult,” Jones said. “With current policies, CCS will have a hard time [being] deployed … There is less of a global push for climate action, and tighter government finances.”

And, it included this important stuff as well:

US energy secretary Steven Chu told the meeting the price of carbon would have to be $80 a tonne for CCS to be economically viable with current technology.

But, he continued, the US has yet to even set a price, which makes it difficult for companies to invest and financial institutions to make loans to CCS projects.

“The US needs a price on carbon sooner rather than later,” said Chu. “This is something where we are losing time. It is very important that we get moving.”

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We’ve written before on Coal Tattoo — many times (see here, here and here) — about the fact that continued opposition by the coal industry and its political friends to any limits on greenhouse gas emissions is part of what is sinking any efforts to move forward with carbon capture and storage, or CCS projects.

Now, there’s a new report out from the Global CCS Institute that further makes this important point.

The report is mostly positive, touting things like this:

Through the Institute’s annual projects survey 74 large-scale integrated CCS projects were identified around the world, 14 of which are either operating or under construction. The total CO2 storage capacity of these 14 projects is over 33 million tonnes a year. This is broadly equivalent to preventing the emissions from more than six million cars from entering the atmosphere each year.

Progress is being made on CCS globally. The number of CCS projects in operation or under construction is growing and is likely to continue to grow.

But the report notes that nearly a dozen projects have been canceled or put on hold in the last year, saying:

The most frequently cited reason for a project being put on-hold or cancelled is that it was deemed uneconomic in its current form and policy environment. The lack of financial support to continue to the next stage of project development and uncertainty regarding carbon abatement policies were critical factors that led several project proponents to reprioritise their investments, either within their CCS portfolio or to alternative technologies.

And, importantly for the coal industry in Appalachia, the report noted:

In the case of the Mountaineer power project, American Electric Power cited regulatory and policy uncertainties as key factors contributing to its decision not to progress to the Execute stage.

Among other things, the report concludes:

Substantial, timely and stable policy support, including a carbon price signal, is needed for CCS to be demonstrated and then broadly deployed. This in turn will give industry confidence to continue to invest in CCS and drive innovation.

CCS project stops, but global warming keeps going

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Dry soil cracks in the heat near Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City on Monday, July 18, 2011. (AP Photo/The Daily Oklahoman, John Clanton)

West Virginia elected officials may want to pretend that their opposition to any limits on greenhouse gas emissions had nothing to do with American Electric Power’s scuttling of a major carbon capture and storage project in Mason County. But in the wake of that AEP announcement, one thing can’t be ignored: The world continues to get warmer.

Here’s what Climate Science Watch said on Monday:

In a Capitol Hill briefing on the recently released State of the Climate in 2010 report, Tom Karl, Director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, rebutted the skeptic argument that global warming has stopped …

These indicators on a global scale constitute an “unmistakable signal that there is warming from the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the oceans,” Karl concluded. 2010 was tied for the warmest year on record with 2005, while Greenland’s ice sheet lost the most mass in the last ten years. Changes to the Arctic’s climate are “occurring faster than in most of the rest of the world,” he said. The September Arctic sea ice extent was the third smallest of the past 30 years.

On his indispensable blog, Climate Progress, Joe Romm headlined his story, “Sorry Deniers, the Earth Just Keeps Warming – Thanks to Us“.

I mentioned last week how Hoppy Kercheval at MetroNews opined that the move by AEP to ditch its CCS project was “understandable”:

Customers are already squeezed because of the natural growth in rates and the sluggish economy. Requiring them to pay for a carbon sequestration experiment that might one day lead to lowering the planet’s temperature by a fraction of a degree won’t fly.

West Virginia, in fact the entire country, has more immediate problems.

More immediate? How about which problem is really more serious in the long-term picture?

Malee, a three-month old Asian elephant, cools off with a spray of water in her wading pool at the Oklahoma City Zoo in Oklahoma City, Monday, July 18, 2011. Much of the nation is in the grip of a broiling heat wave. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Joe Romm has a post called What if the CO2 Ceiling Debate Were Like the Debt Ceiling Debate that gets to the heart of those questions:

The national debt isn’t the greatest short-term problem we face. That is spurring jobs and economic growth.

And the debt certainly isn’t close to the greatest long-term problem we face. That would obviously be unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases, which threaten human civilization with multiple simultaneous catastrophes — from endless superstorms to permanent DustBowls.

AEP puts brakes on touted carbon capture project

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Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

The New York Times broke the story late last night:

A major American utility is shelving the nation’s most prominent effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming.

American Electric Power has decided to table plans to build a full-scale carbon-capture plant at Mountaineer, a 31-year-old coal-fired plant in West Virginia, where the company has successfully captured and buried carbon dioxide in a small pilot program for two years.

The technology had been heralded as the quickest solution to help the coal industry weather tougher federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions. But Congressional inaction on climate change diminished the incentives that had spurred A.E.P. to take the leap.

Let’s read that last sentence again:

But Congressional inaction on climate change diminished the incentives that had spurred A.E.P. to take the leap.

We’re waiting this morning for an official announcement from Columbus, Ohio-based AEP.

Updated: Jeri Matheny, a spokeswoman for AEP, confirmed the development to me this morning:

We are tabling the project. It’s disappointing that we had to do that. It was a business decision that we had to make.

Updated 2: I’ve posted a copy of AEP’s news release here.

But one thing to be clear about is that the Times seems just a little confused about the size of the project involved here.

Reporters Matthew L. Wald and John M. Broder describe it as a “full-scale carbon-capture plant” at the company’s Mountaineer Power station in New Haven, Mason County. But, they go on to discuss a $668 million project that the U.S. Department of Energy had pledged to provide half of the funds to complete.

Regular readers of Coal Tattoo know that AEP has been working on a test project that would capture and store a small stream of the carbon emissions from Mountaineer, and that the partially DOE-funded expansion was really for a larger pilot project — not for full-scale CCS on the entire facility. As we described previously:

AEP’s Mountaineer Plant CCS project is among the most important tests of technology aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. But, the current test deals with an emissions stream equivalent to only 20 megawatts of the 1,300-megawatt plant. The federal funding would cover about half of the costs of expanding AEP’s chilled ammonia carbon capture process to cover the equivalent of 230 megawatts of the plant. (Still less than 20 percent of the overall facility).

Still, this is a major story … and it’s worth reading how the Times describes the reasons for this AEP decision yet again:

… Congressional inaction on climate change diminished the incentives that had spurred A.E.P. to take the leap.

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Sen. Manchin praises coal-to-liquids project

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This just in from Sen. Joe Manchin’s office

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today highlighted the critical role that coal will play in our nation’s energy future at the groundbreaking of the country’s first coal-to-gasoline plant in Mingo County, which is projected to create hundreds of new jobs and provide additional domestic resources to help bring down the price of gas.

“The price of gas has skyrocketed to more than four dollars a gallon in the last year, and there’s no question that West Virginia families are hurting,” Senator Manchin said. “West Virginia is a state where people have to drive to survive, and I know these high prices are hitting families hard. This country has to get serious about making energy independence a priority, which is why we must develop a national energy policy that harnesses all of our vast domestic resources and push forward with new technology – just like coal-to-gasoline – that will help us achieve energy independence within a generation. All West Virginians can be proud that Mingo County, West Virginia is at the center of a very exciting new frontier in energy technology that will help reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

According to Manchin’s office:

This coal-to-gasoline plant – the first of its kind in the United States – is projected to convert 7,500 tons of West Virginia coal into clean gasoline each day, which can be used to run cars, trucks, tanks and jets. It is expected to produce 18,000 barrels (756,000 gallons) of Premium 92 Octane gasoline each day. When it is fully operational, this plant is expected to create 300 full-time jobs. And, over a four-year construction period, its estimated that 3,000 skilled trade workers will be employed.

So, this one plant — if it’s every built — would produce about one-third of the gasoline that West Virginia uses every day, at least according to figures published by the state Division of Energy.

Now, Sen. Manchin doesn’t mention questions about the lack of financing (subscription required) for this project.  He doesn’t mention lingering problems with the company’s state environmental permits — such as the fact that its stormwater permit for its construction not being issued yet.

And Sen. Manchin certainly didn’t mention the biggest question facing the TransGas proposal: The fact that it has no plan for capturing and storing its greenhouse gas emissions, meaning the fuel it produces could end up generating twice as much carbon dioxide as traditional fuels.

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Sen. Rockefeller loses again on EPA bill

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The U.S. Senate just voted down — by a count of 88-12 — the latest effort by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to delay any EPA action to deal with global warming.

Sen. Rockefeller’s office issued this statement just before the vote:

I’m convinced that my approach to stopping the EPA in its tracks is the best idea on the table to protect the mining industry. We need a timeout on EPA regulations right now, and I don’t understand why Republicans are saying they will block what we’re trying to do just to score a point against the White House. If that happens, it’s a shame. The plan I have for blocking the EPA will protect West Virginia, allow miners to keep their jobs, and is reasonable enough that it can become law. None of the other plans have any chance of that. We ought to put aside bickering and agree on a plan that offers real solutions and good outcomes.

As we’ve discussed before here on Coal Tattoo, Sen. Rockefeller’s version of these events is that the coal industry and utilities need more time to perfect and deploy carbon capture and storage equipment … but there’s plenty of evidence that what is really keeping CCS from moving forward is the lack of a comprehensive climate and energy plan that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions by requiring cuts in those emissions.

See previous posts here, here, here and here.

Waiting for Acting Gov. Tomblin and coal’s future

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Here in West Virginia, as our state Senate argues over who is running the place, we’re all waiting to hear tonight from Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who is scheduled to give his State of the State address at 7 p.m.

It seems likely that the acting governor will touch on coal industry issues, probably to confirm he’s willing to continue fighting the Obama administration’s efforts to curb the impacts of mountaintop removal. But it will also be interesting to hear if Gov. Tomblin mentions the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and makes any commitment to push legislation to improve mine safety in the state.

But even more interesting: Will the acting governor talk at all about West Virginia embracing the future, moving toward accepting efforts to limit the negative impacts of coal rather than hiding our heads in the sand?

These questions came to mind today as I clicked through some links that my friend Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone was posting on Twitter about new questions being raised about one of the most widely touted carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project in the world.

It seems that this consultant’s report has found that CO2 from the Weyburn Field CCS project in Saskatchewan at levels twice that which would asphyxiate a person. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail:

First there were the strange blooms of algae on water that had pooled in a gravel pit near Jane and Cameron Kerr’s house. Then there were the dead animals – a cat, an African goat, a rabbit, a duck, a half-dozen blackbirds. Then there were the night-time blowouts, which sounded like cannons and left gashes in the side of the pit.

But what started as a series of worrisome problems on a rural Saskatchewan property has now raised serious questions about the safety of carbon sequestration and storage, a technology that has drawn billions in spending from governments and industry, which have promoted it as a salve to Canada’s growth in greenhouse-gas emissions.

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