$10B Carbon Capture Bill Takes Hits

By Published On: July 11, 2008

Federal legislation to charge investor-owned utility ratepayers $1 billion a year for the next decade to fund carbon capture and sequestration research was slammed for circumventing state oversight of project costs during a House Energy & Commerce Committee sub-panel hearing July 10. “There are no benchmarks, no public participation and no government oversight,” warned Representative Ed Markey (D-MA). The bill would grant a private corporation $10 billion to handle research and development funding for coal-fired projects with carbon capture technology. The subsidies expect to slash greenhouse gas emissions by advancing the technology to trap and inject the gases into geologic formations instead of the atmosphere. Coal proponents claim 750 new coal plants will be needed to meet growing power demand. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) warned this week that failure to continue to tap into domestic coal resources would cause utility bills to be as high as gasoline bills. Several Democratic members of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality also criticized proponents of HR 6258, introduced by Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA), for blocking comprehensive climate change legislation last month because of its expected cost. These advocates then turned around and pushed a narrow and costly measure to advance technology unproven on a commercial scale. Warning of the impacts of the coal subsidies, James Kerr, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions president, said, “We have got to get some protection for those nameless, faceless consumers.” Earlier this year, the Department of Energy pulled the plug on an experimental $1 billion coal plant carbon sequestration and capture project. The department acted amid concerns about the technology and its rising costs. Coal fuels about one half of the nation’s power plants, primarily in Midwestern and Eastern states. Legislators on both sides of the aisle expect coal to continue to play a large role in the nation’s energy future. But how to limit the carbon emissions, at what cost, and to whom, remain points of contention. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and other munis in Southern California depend on imported coal-fired power. To address associated greenhouse gas emissions, California limits emissions from coal-fired power imports. Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) warned that the failure to enact a federal carbon cap-and-trade bill resulted in there being no price on carbon. “Without a price on carbon no one will ever use this technology,” he said. Under HR 6258, the money would be allocated to a new Carbon Sequestration and Research Corporation that would be housed within the Electric Power Research Institute. EPRI is a big proponent of carbon capture technologies and was largely responsible for developing the first integrated gasification combined cycle plant in Southern California. Southern California Edison’s 100 MW Cool Water plant was on-line in the mid-1980s near Barstow. It’s now shut down. Advocates of Boucher’s bill insist the legislation would increase ratepayer costs by about $10-$12 a year. Congress is nearing the end of its current session. Thus, the potential of passing the bill this year is in question.

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