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Indiana Ratepayer Group: CCS is “Big Coal's Trick to Maintain the Status Quo”

3 min. read

Craig Shumaker, PhD, of the Indiana-based Citizens Action Coalition, a utility ratepayer advocacy group, writing in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, has an interesting analysis of  “carbon capture and sequestration” (CCS) technology for coal plants. What’s wrong with CCS? For starters, as Shumaker points out, “Carbon capture is like trying to catch the chickens after the barnyard gate has been left open.” Then, there are enormous “technical and safety issues,” not to mention the “real problems” – “scale and cost.”

The question, according to Shumaker, is simple:

Why put in place a massive and costly CCS infrastructure that rivals that of oil and gas, but with a lifespan of fewer than 100 years? The objective is to make electricity, not to burn more coal. Or is it?

Shumaker’s take  on why CCS is a bad choice:

The United States needs energy systems that will last centuries, that are sustainable, and have small carbon footprints. Coal should be immediately taken off the table and CCS should be exposed for the foolhardy scheme that it is — a huge Band-Aid on 19th century technology.

The promise of CCS is merely a charade by the utilities and the coal industry to build new coal-powered power plants before their ancient units must be decommissioned. Large scale adoption of CCS will never and should not ever happen.

There are the outrageous costs – the boondoogle, “FutureGen” CCS project was cancelled by President Bush in 2008 after the price tag doubled to $1.8 billion (70% payable by taxpayers).

Then there’s the scale needed to actually make a meaningful dent in the carbon pollution from coal. As Vaclav Smil, a University of Manitoba energy expert, estimated to The New York Times that:

…capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fired plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. “Beware of the scale,” he stressed.

And there’s the foundational lie that comes along with CCS – its propaganda uses as Exhibit A “clean coal” technology. Even if this outlandishly expensive science experiment could safely stuff carbon dioxide under the ground for millennia, there isn’t anything clean about “capturing” one pollutant and leaving much more coming out smokestacks or out the plant gates in barrels. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a “typical coal plant” in an “average year” also emits “10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2),” “500 tons of small airborne particles,” “10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx),” “720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO),” “220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.,” “170 pounds of mercury,” “225 pounds of arsenic,” and “114 pounds of lead.”

The reality is, there just isn’t a way to make coal clean, and there isn’t a way to extract it that doesn’t ruin the public commons on which the long-term health of our economy depends. Instead of spending billions on this boondoggle, the new, deficit-conscious Congress could instead save money by kicking the coal lobby off public welfare. It doesn’t have to dump $10 billion into federal loans for coal companies, for example. It can, instead, redirect the savings to deficit reductions and clean energy investments. That’s what American want in the first place.

UPDATE: The Winnipeg Free Press reports, "A Saskatchewan farm couple whose land lies over the world's largest carbon capture and storage project says greenhouse gases leaking out are killing animals and sending groundwater foaming to the surface like shaken soda pop."