American Electric Power on Thursday shelved plans for a commercial-scale carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project that was a centerpiece of the federal government's so-called Clean Coal Initiative.
The company says Congress' inability to act on climate policy and a weak economy were left little incentive to go forward with the $668 million project.
AEP and French partner Alstom are already operating a pilot-scale CSS project at the Mountaineer coal plant in West Virginia. With $334 million in federal funding, they planned to expand the project in four phases to eventually capture the emissions from about 220 MW of the plant's 1,300 MW capacity and store it deep underground.
But CCS is extremely expensive to build and operate, and Franklin Orr, director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University told Reuters: "It is unlikely that large-scale implementation of CCS will take place in the absence of some sort of regulatory structure that requires it and allows companies that put projects in place to recover the costs."
Critics of CCS say it's a pie-in-the-sky technology that allows the power industry to continue burning dirty fuels while waiting for a "clean coal technology" that will never arrive.
Furthermore, there are concerns about the safety of CCS. In September 2010, Duke University researchers released a report detailing threats to drinking water aquifiers.
In November 2010, the EPA finalized rules that aim to protect drinking water from CCS and to track the amount of carbon dioxide that is stored.
So far, no commercial-scale CCS plants are in operation in the US, and the technology is beginning to look more and more economically unfeasible (like nuclear power).
The Department of Energy still has $612 million in Recovery Act funding designated for CCS projects in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois. And Southern Company is reportedly building CCS at a 582 MW gasified coal plant in Mississippi that will capture 65% of the emissions.
Even if these initial large-scale projects are brought to fruition over the next five years, they will capture only a tiny fraction of coal emissions and the window for reversing the growth of global emissions will be closed that much farther.