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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

Cost is a challenge to CCS

Is carbon capture and sequestration a magic bullet to curb emissions or is the technology a bunch of hype?

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is neither a magic bullet nor hype. It is an option, but only one, in the portfolio of potential actions for reducing emissions. Beyond technological feasibility, carbon removal techniques should be cost-effective.

CCS technology is proven on a small scale and has been used in limited situations. But, on the scale needed to capture and store large volumes from coal fired power units, it faces challenges that have to be over come before it can be considered commercially viable.

Those challenges include being able to maintain the integrity of geological formations, continuous monitoring to make sure that there are not leaks into groundwater or the atmosphere, and transporting CO2 from the source of combustion to the storage site. Currently, the cost of using CCS would add 20 percent or more the price of electricity. So, it is not a cheap way to reduce emissions.

The Department of Energy should be exploring a range of technology options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and federal dollars should be focused on those technologies or areas of research and development that the private sector is less likely to invest in and which would represent major breakthroughs. DOE already has a program on capture and storage and the private sector is supporting research programs at universities like MIT and Stanford. So, there is a legitimate question of what else needs to be done and why is it the role of the federal government?

Although the Senate is exploring legislation for public-private cooperation on CCS technology, the justification is weak and seems to be primarily designed to protect coal interests. Coal producers and utilities that are heavy into coal have strong incentives to invest in CCS research and development. If they are not willing to make that investment to preserve a role for coal in our energy mix, why should tax payers? There are alternatives to coal for power generation.

Congress is on a spending binge that the nation can not afford. Instead of increasing the federal spending and the deficit that goes with that spending, Congress should be focused more on reducing spending. Subsidies to private interests are a good place to start.

Instead of a legislative provision that protects coal, the Senate should be looking at barriers to greater use of natural gas in power generation and a carbon tax that will send a clear signal and incentive to energy producers. When senators say that they won't support putting a price on carbon, they are either not being honest or don't understand the consequences of their actions. A carbon tax with the proceeds being returned to taxpayers is both good climate policy and good tax policy, as has been demonstrated overwhelmingly by economic analyses.

By William O'Keefe  |  March 25, 2010; 3:57 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: CCS: Neither bullet nor hype | Next: A potential gap closer

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There is quite a difference between "spending", and "investing". A GigaWatt of electricity is worth about a billion dollars wholesale. Any spending on cleaner electrical generation whether solar or nuclear, or even fossil fuel sequestration, pays back any taxpayer investment quickly. It becomes an "investment" that prints a billion dollars in GNP year after year after year. Hardly a bad deal for the taxpayer.

Posted by: fabco | March 29, 2010 11:12 AM
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How would anyone know for sure how much co2 is actually sequestered, or whether it still is? What is to prevent oil companies from falsifying reports, and getting paid for more carbon credits than are actually sequestered?

Posted by: fabco | March 29, 2010 11:09 AM
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Quote:

"Those challenges include being able to maintain the integrity of geological formations, continuous monitoring to make sure that there are not leaks into groundwater or the atmosphere, and transporting CO2 from the source of combustion to the storage site. Currently, the cost of using CCS would add 20 percent or more the price of electricity. So, it is not a cheap way to reduce emissions."

And after you pump huge volumes of gas into these formations and you do have leaks into the ground water what would you propose to do about it? When you put really large amounts of gas into a closed environment at very high temperatures and pressures, and there was a slight miscalculation or misunderstanding about the integrity of the structure, the resulting explosion will be a bomb of our own making. I wonder if a terrorist organization could trigger one of these by injecting some explosives into the ground above one of these pressure chambers.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | March 27, 2010 8:57 AM
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