The idea that coal can be “cleaned” of its climate-damaging carbon emissions as it is burned received yet another body blow last week when two big European utilities backed out of the continent’s largest attempt to capture and store carbon from coal power plant exhaust.
The utilities, French Engie and German Uniper, have “told the Dutch government they no longer intended to participate” in the project, “the biggest of its kind in Europe,” to demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at one of several new coal generation units being built at Rotterdam, Australia’s RenewEconomy reports.
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Even as the Dutch government signalled it would try to recover subsidies it had paid to the project, Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the technology. The two utilities’ withdrawal, Kemp asserted, “changed nothing” in the Dutch government’s resolve to develop large-scale CCS.
Australia’s government has shown similar resolve in support of “clean” coal, despite studies showing that CCS-equipped generating stations there would produce power at more than twice the cost of solar or wind generation.
Late last month, however, the Mississippi Public Service Commission ordered Southern Company to abandon efforts to apply CCS technology at its Kemper generating station in the state, after the cost of the planned process exploded from US$2.3 billion in 2010 to $7.5 billion, pushing up consumer power bills by 15%.
Last week, meanwhile, in a report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation and covered recently by fossil-focused news outlet JWN Energy, University of Edinburgh economist Gordon Hughes called CCS “little more than a utopian dream”.
“We have spent countless millions trying to get carbon capture to work for coal-fired power stations. But in the future, coal will mostly be used in the developing world, where CCS is going to be too expensive. Everyone else is moving to gas, for which CCS…would make renewables and nuclear look cheap,” Hughes wrote.
“The boat has already sailed for new coal plants fitted with CCS,” the Scottish economist concluded. “There is no plausible economic future for this option. Equally, the costs of retrofitting existing coal plants look prohibitive.”
Hughes estimated that the average cost of reducing CO2 emissions via CCS “will be at least $120 per tonne CO2 for base load plants, and may be $160–200 per tonne at plants operating [intermittently].” There are many cheaper alternatives, he noted. “In China, for example, the switch from coal to gas is both relatively cheap and has large associated benefits, namely reductions in air pollution.”