1:39pm

Thu July 14, 2011
Environmental Watchdog

Carbon Capture Research Stops at AEP

For the past few years, American Electric Power has been working on a carbon capture and sequestration project at their Mountaineer Power Plant in New Haven, West Virginia. The plant used a chilled ammonia process to remove the carbon dioxide from the gas emitted from the plant, then the carbon was injected underground for storage in porous rock. Here’s a documentary I produced while at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which describes the technology at Mountaineer.

But AEP’s project at Mountaineer was very small scale–it removed about 1.5 percent of the carbon from the plant’s emissions. But now, AEP has announced that it will be halting the project. The news was broken in The New York Times this morning. According to the NYT article, because Congress has been slow to act on climate change, the company decided it couldn’t justify sinking more money into the project:

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.

Company officials, who plan an announcement on Thursday, said they were dropping the larger, $668 million project because they did not believe state regulators would let the company recover its costs by charging customers, thus leaving it no compelling regulatory or business reason to continue the program.

The federal Department of Energy had pledged to cover half the cost, but A.E.P. said it was unwilling to spend the remainder in a political climate that had changed strikingly since it began the project.

[snip]

A senior Obama administration official said that the A.E.P. decision was a direct result of the political stalemate.

“This is what happens when you don’t get a climate bill,” the official said, insisting on anonymity to discuss a corporate decision that had not yet been publicly announced.

The very idea of carbon capture is controversial. It’s astronomically expensive to implement for power companies and ratepayers. Many environmentalists don’t support it either, because it’s such an energy intensive system that it reduces power plant efficiency. Also, for them it represents an extension of the nation’s reliance on coal. But others on both side of the fence see this kind of advanced coal technology as a way to begin burning coal cleaner, and eventually transition away from fossil fuels.

Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. has reaction from multiple parties to the announcement on his blog, Coal Tattoo.