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Carbon hush money

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is a recently discovered technology that will allow energy companies to reduce that large, uncomfortable bulge in your wallet. We have been burning coal for a couple of hundred years, but it seems that we have only recently realized that carbon-based fuels are dirty. They kill millions of people a year and are endangering the entire planet. According to large coal companies, the best way to deal with the problem of filthy, unhealthy power production is to give extremely large government subsidies to any industry that might kill us.

Coal companies believe that CCS technologies may, someday, perhaps, be able to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we pump into the atmosphere. But, it will require a large infusion of public money to test and prove the technology. They have yet to explain why, if this is really such a problem, they have failed for over a century to put any of their own money into the technology. Legislation currently moving through Congress will throw billions of taxpayer dollars at energy companies that they will, hopefully, liberally spend on public relations, building large test facilities and creating thousands of jobs, rather than on lobbying Congress against climate change legislation. Companies have spent billions in the last twenty years lobbying and crying about limiting greenhouse gases rather than investing in CCS or other cleaner technologies. They currently invest a pittance of their own money in the technology, hoping instead for a large endowment of public money.

The Department of Energy is pushing toward a goal of having 20 CCS demonstration projects up and running in the U.S. by 2010. Hundreds of projects are underway around the world. Optimistic projections think we may see CCS on a commercial scale by 2020. Skeptics think possibly 2030 or later. One DOE project in Mississippi has become the first in the nation to inject more than 1 million tons of the greenhouse gas into the ground. They hope to eventually reach a goal of sequestering 1.5 million tons. So, let’s see, we only produce a little over 6 billion tons of CO2 per year so, we only need another 6,000 such plants. Oh wait, I forgot, CCS technology eats up one-third of the power produced so, we will need to build another polluting power plant for every two that sequester their carbon. Most current sequestration projects pump their captured CO2 into depleted oil fields to enhance recovery of oil which is then burned to produce power, creating more greenhouse gases, pretty much a wash for the atmosphere.

CCS projects have proven to be extremely expensive even with massive public subsidies. Capital Power of Alberta, Canada dropped plans for a subsidized sequestration project last month due to cost. Two other planned Canadian projects would store about 2 million tons of Canada’s current 700 million ton output. There is much doubt whether CCS will ever be financially feasible even if the technology proves out.

The American Coal Energy and Security Act now in the House provides $10 billion to coal-fired electricity producers over the next ten years. $500 million of that goes for just “administrative expenses”. You can expect to see that charge on your electric bill. Bonus payments in the bill will “essentially cover the full capital costs of constructing a CCS-capable coal plant — about $3.5 billion each“. Plants will be paid $50-$90 per ton for the carbon sequestered. That means that the Mississippi plant would have earned around $70 million for its sequestered carbon dioxide. There are no comparable subsidies for cleaner technologies such as wind or solar. Big coal comes out the big winner along with state and local governments which will reap tax income from the demonstration plants and jobs. It appears that coal and energy companies will be big winners with CCS whether the technology ever proves out or not. Their coffers will be bloated with payoffs from public funds for the next couple of decades and all they have to do is keep their mouths shut about the government regulating greenhouse gases.

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