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DOE spent $ 1.1 billion on most failed carbon capture projects

Then Energy Secretary Rick Perry (right) joins NRG Energy CEO Mauricio Gutierrez (left) on a tour of the Petra Nova carbon capture and enhanced oil recovery system on Thursday, April 13, 2017. The plant closed less than four years after that.  the photo was taken.

Then Energy Secretary Rick Perry (right) joins NRG Energy CEO Mauricio Gutierrez (left) on a tour of the Petra Nova carbon capture and enhanced oil recovery system on Thursday, April 13, 2017. The plant closed less than four years after that. the photo was taken.
Photo: Paul Ladd (AP)

The idea of ​​trapping dirty coal plant carbon emissions at source and storing it underground may seem like a solution for our climate Problems. I amIn practice, this turned out to be practically impracticable, but this did not stop the government from investing money in it.

Recent report from Chamber of Accounts of the Government found what federal agencies havee spent over $ 1 billion mainly on unsuccessful projects… Moreover, the report found that officials continued to fund non-milestone projects, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on pilot projects. that never got off the ground.

While carbon capture and storage, or CCS, may sound great in theory, constantly proven to be much more complicated and expensive in practice compared to reduction of emissions such as reducing the use of fossil fuels and installation of renewable energy sources… CCS has proven to be particularly problematic when associated with coal plants, which the among v the dirtiest ways produce electricity and is more and more expensive than other forms of energy.

“You have to not only prove the technology, you have to prove that it works in the long term and it has to be economical,” said David Schlissel, director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “The best way to capture carbon is to not produce carbon at all.”

That report, published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) late last month, it says the DOE has invested $ 1.1 billion in 11 CCS projects since 2009. These projects include a combination industrial plants and coal-fired power plants

The is eight coal projects funded by the Ministry of Energy received 684 million dollars, but only one has ever been online. That one “successful” CCS project that came out of all this investment was the Petra Nova plant, which closed in 2021 in just four years of operation. Petra Nova’s CCS technology required so much additional energy to operate that its owners built a completely separate gas plant just to feed it. The’s carbon dioxide extracted from the plant’s emissions were also used for oil drilling, mainly denial of climatic benefits Two out of three industrial projects ended up working, but that’s hardly a track record. rely on the scalability of CCS to the levels necessary to prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere

Much of this terrible success rate for coal projects stems from market forces turning their backs on coal, the report says. I amit just didn’t make financial sense for some of the partners the government chose to keep. the objects they offer work with additional costs… But the report also revealed a host of problems with how the DOE provided money for these coal projects. TThe report says the Department of Energy stamped coal project financing in less than three months. as opposed to CCS’s one-year inspection process for industrial facilities.

Moreover, in the case of four coal projects supported by the Ministry of Energy, received nearly $ 472 million in funding alone, senior MOE leadership instructed staff to bypass agency-imposed cost controls so as not to expose them to financial risk. Agency has repeatedly changed the various financial requirements for these four projects, significantly changing the order of paperwork. continue funding even though projects continually skip key milestones. This fuzzy math cost the Department of Energy more than $ 300 million in funding. than originally planned for these projects… Worse still not one of them got off the ground.

That $ 1.1 billion figure is a lot, but not necessarily a huge amount. spend on new technology that the attraction looked very different ten years ago when most of that money was intended. A separate Congressional report published last October, found that the Department of Energy has spent well over $ 7.3 billion since 2010 on “CCS-related activities,” including research. This does not necessarily mean that the government should not invest in high risk, high returns technologies. But the GAO report makes it clear that smarter ways to decide what to fund and the importance of accountability, especially when it comes to ensuring that money technologies that can generate measurable carbon emissions cuts

“If we had this conversation 10 years ago, seven years ago, you would undoubtedly ask me one of the questions: are there any cheaper alternatives? ” – said Shlissel. “Then my answer would be that in the future, renewables will be cheaper than carbon capture. As we speak today, my answer is renewable energies. are cheaper than carbon capture. “

But there is some important lessons to be learned for the future, especially given the gaps reporting documents on how the Department of Energy was quick to provide funding for dubious projects; and how rapidly other types of technology are advancing. Government is currently ramping up investment in CCS as well as other carbon dioxide removal; infrastructure bill passed in November allocates $ 2.5 billion for CCS demonstration projects, the largest cutout for technology to date. But this does not mean that CCS technologies will suddenly become commonplace.

“It’s not like walking into Home Depot, pushing a big cart and saying:oh, here’s the carbon capture technology,– said Shlissel. “You have to design this, you have to build this, you have to test this. Dwe’re talking about testing technologies that won’t be commercially viable for years, if ever. And as the price of renewables goes down, it will get more difficult. “

Wno change in how he views project financing, the GAO report says. “The DOE risks spending significant funds on CCS demonstration projects that have little chance of success.” In other words, there could still be many high-profile and costly setbacks on our hands if the government is not careful.

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