What's really killing carbon capture and storage?
Bloomberg magazine bemoans dying interest in CCS, while the boss hastens its demise
Carbon capture and storage could ensure abundant electricity from coal, while cutting the CO2 emissions responsible for climate change. Yet, barely two years after a sense of determination and common cause inspired the Obama Energy Department to launch CCS projects, industry is pulling the plug.
What could have gone wrong? Environmentalists had heralded the projects. What's killing carbon capture? Bloomberg Businessweek wondered.
The economy is weak, its reporters suggested. US climate policy is uncertain. There is a national retreat from the goal of reversing climate change, largely because of energy industry lobbying against cap-and-trade legislation. The administration spent its political capital on Obamacare. Republicans took over the House. Utility regulators refuse to underwrite growing CCS costs with massive rate increases. A CCS storage site in Saskatchewan began bubbling up carbon dioxide.
All these factors played a role. But they ignore some inconvenient elephants.
While his magazine staff scratched their heads, owner Michael Bloomberg was working to scuttle carbon capture and coal-fired power plants. His foundation gave Sierra Club $50 million to finance disinformation campaigns aimed at shutting down one-third of the nation's coal-fired power plants by 2020.
That's the same coal that generates 48-98% of the reliable, affordable electricity in 26 states. It enables U.S. companies to compete internationally, keeps millions employed, produces billions in tax revenue, powers air conditioners that keep people comfortable and alive when outside temperatures hit 90-115, and allows even poor families to enjoy the best living standards in world history.
That's the same billionaire Michael Bloomberg who, as mayor of New York City, wanted to install giant wind turbines on the city's bridges and skyscrapers. This, he insisted, would get NYC off the blackout-prone Northeast power grid and reduce the threat of heat waves like the ones back in 1976, 1954, 1936 and 1924, before climate change and heat waves stopped being natural and became manmade.
By financing Sierra Club's anti-energy crusade, Hizzoner is making it infinitely harder for any company to justify investing another dime in CCS demonstration projects. The Department of Energy and Businessweek reporters may still support carbon capture. But Bloomberg, Sierra Club, NRDC and Lisa Jackson's Environmental Protection Agency want it and coal-based electricity priced out of existence.
Frustrated that Congress refused to enact cap-tax-and-trade, President Obama unleashed EPA to promulgate thousands of pages of rules governing carbon dioxide, toxic pollutants that have already been reduced dramatically, cross-state transport of emissions, and other power plant operations. All tout health claims based on virtual reality computer models, cherry-picked research and illusory benefits. But the adverse health and economic impacts of the new regulations are significant, real and ignored.
Management Information Services Inc. calculates that the air toxics and cross-state rules alone will cost utilities upwards of $130 billion, to retrofit existing plants or demolish them and build replacements plus some $30 billion a year for operations and maintenance. National Economic Research Associates says power companies will have to pay $184 billion through 2030, including $72 billion in immediate capital costs, to comply with the two regulations. The rules will send electricity prices skyrocketing 12-60% and cost six Midwestern manufacturing states a combined 3.5 million jobs and $42-82 billion in annual state GDP, says MISI.
Few companies can justify those costs for older power plants. No wonder they've lost interest in CCS experiments. Utilities will simply close dozens of generating units, representing tens of thousands of megawatts. Illinois alone will lose nearly 3,500 MW of reliable, affordable baseload electricity by 2014. The cross-state rule alone will prematurely shut down nearly 25% of America's coal-based electricity generating capacity, says Texas Environmental Quality Commissioner Bryan Shaw. The United States could lose as much as 60,000 MW by 2017, enough to power 60,000,000 homes and small businesses.
And all this is before considering the cost of removing plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust streams, under EPA endangerment rules. Once EPA implements those plans, utilities will have to spend billions more to design, build, install and operate CCS equipment, pipeline and storage facilities.
These parasitic systems produce no electricity. In the process of pulling CO2 out of the exhaust stream and sending it to underground reservoirs, they consume one-third or more of a power plant's electricity output at $60-85 per ton of CO2 captured adding yet another 30-80% to family and business electricity rates. We will need far more power plants to generate the same net electricity.
If Americans need still more reasons for retreating on climate change prevention, consider this. There has been no measurable increase in average global temperatures since 1995. The Climategate emails proved that unscrupulous scientists were colluding with each other, vying to publish the most alarmist findings, and pressuring scientific journals not to publish articles by climate realists. IPCC headline-grabbing climate disasters turned out to be rank speculation, computer-model hogwash or fraud.
Moreover, China, India and other countries are constantly building coal-fired power plants. Thus, even slashing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to zero will merely destroy American jobs, companies and living standards making our current unemployment, debt and family misery indexes seem like paradise.
Businessweek barely touched on this. Nor did it ask Mr. Bloomberg, Sierra Club, Lisa Jackson or President Obama just how they intend to replace all this lost electricity. Their sound-bite answer is always renewable energy. But we need to know specifically how they would address realities like these.
* Replacing just one 600-MW coal-fired power plant with wind turbines would require a 50,000-acre wind farm, like the one at Fowler Ridge, Indiana, assuming it operates 24 hours a day, every day, which, of course, no wind farm ever will. And these guys are talking about replacing a lot of power plants.
* Providing green electricity to meet New York Citys need's would require blanketing the State of Connecticut with wind turbines, says Rochester U environmental science professor Jesse Ausubel.
* Replacing the third of U.S. coal-fired generation that Bloomberg wants shut down would require over 50,000 monstrous offshore turbines, one every half-mile, in a five-mile-wide obstacle course along the entire Atlantic coastline, according to calculations by Power magazine editor-in-chief Robert Peltier.
All these wind turbines would need to be backed up 90-100% by (mostly) gas-fired generators that can surge almost instantaneously from spinning reserve to full power, whenever the turbines stop working which they often do on the hottest days, when electricity demand is at its peak. That means we will need vast natural gas resources.
Fortunately, America has them, especially now that we know how to use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to unlock our abundant conventional and shale gas deposits. Unfortunately, Bloomberg & Friends oppose onshore and offshore drilling and fracking. And few renewable energy aficionados will ever support land-hungry, scenery-scarring, raw material-intensive, bat and raptor-killing wind turbine installations on the scale needed to replace the power plants that are being closed down.
Talk about cognitive dissonance.
We are governed too much by ideologues who detest and obstruct every energy system that works and support large-scale systems that don't work, until someone actually proposes to install one. The problem is pervasive, growing and seemingly intractable. But the bottom line is simple.
If obstructionists have their way, America faces a grim future: of energy shortfalls and rate hikes, unemployment, poverty, heatstroke, misery and death at the hands of ruling elites.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death.