High costs have trumped high hopes in the quest to reduce globe-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.Carbon capture has always seemed like a stupid proposition to me. Plants and the ocean do a pretty good job, capturing and sequestering roughly half of the carbon emitted by man. So how well was this planned to capture carbon?
A day after American Electric Power said it would halt a project to bury carbon dioxide deep beneath a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia, experts say the decision reflects a seismic change in the economics of generating electricity.
Since AEP announced its $668 million "carbon-capture" plan in 2009, estimates of the cost of the technology have grown. Natural-gas prices also have plummeted, and Congress has been unable to agree on a system for regulating carbon dioxide.
"Urgency has been diminished," said Chris Lafakis, an energy economist for Moody's Analytics.
Those same dollars might be better spent on building natural-gas-fired power plants, he said.
"It's a very different kind of world we're looking at now," said Kenneth B. Medlock III, an energy economist at Rice University in Houston.
The system was intended to capture only 110,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, a fraction of Mountaineer's global-warming output. The coal plant annually belches between 7.9 million tons to 9.8 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.To capture roughly 1-2% of the carbon was going to cost one third of the energy output of the plant and double the cost of the electricity? Insanity.
The main goal was to reduce the substantial costs involved in filtering out the carbon dioxide, compressing it to a liquid and pumping it underground. Existing carbon-dioxide systems would drain a third of a coal plant's electricity and double consumers' bills.