Moniz Says U.S. Still Committed to Carbon Capture

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By Dean Scott

Aug. 24 — Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Aug. 24 the Obama administration remains strongly committed to advancing technologies that capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants as vital in the global effort to combat climate change, particularly for rapidly developing nations such as China and India that are likely to rely on increasing amounts of coal to power their industrialization.

Carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS), though today largely limited to the demonstration stage, remain “a very important area to develop,” Moniz said, noting that annual coal consumption in China is approaching 5 billion tons. The energy secretary spoke at the eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas held by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“We need all tools” to curb increasing global greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, Moniz said.

“We need to both push on the highest efficiency and also to get a reasonable carbon profile,” one in which particularly developing nations reliant on coal begin to ratchet down their emissions, Moniz said. “And that's going to require CCS.”

President Barack Obama was slated to speak at the clean energy summit late Aug. 24. Brian Deese, White House senior adviser to the president on climate issues, said the president would highlight “the imperative of acting to address climate change, the progress we’ve made to cut carbon pollution and accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy.”

The president also was to highlight how decentralized generation of electricity through rooftop solar and other small, or “micro” clean energy projects, could contribute to climate efforts and overall grid reliability, Deese told reporters on a press call.

The White House said the clean energy announcements would help states meet the reductions in carbon pollution from power plants under the Environmental Protection Agency's power plant rules and “set us on a path” to reach other U.S. targets, including its pledge to cut total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 under a global climate deal to be negotiated at an end-of-year summit in Paris.

Obama's appearance at the Las Vegas summit is one of several trips the president plans in the weeks ahead to address clean energy, climate change and the need to make nations more resilient to increasingly severe storms linked to climate change. Obama is to join other leaders at the Aug. 30-31 Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic in Anchorage, Alaska, and will travel to New Orleans Aug. 27 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Project Collapse, Funding Supported 

The commercial viability of CCS has been under question for years, with the U.S. in February suspending funding for its $1.65 billion FutureGen 2.0 project in Illinois, envisioned as the nation's most comprehensive effort to capture carbon dioxide emitted from a power plant. The plant would have piped those emissions to an underground storage facility 30 miles away in Morgan County, Ill. 

But the International Energy Agency argues that CCS is essential to curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades, and it has placed carbon capture alongside three other developments—expansion of renewable energy, efficiency programs and nuclear power—it considers crucial to halting the rise of global greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050.

The Obama administration argues that the collapse of the FutureGen project did not spell the end of its support for CCS, noting that the president's fiscal 2016 budget request included a $28.6 million increase for carbon capture development, a 32 percent increase over the current $88 million funding level. The president also asked Congress to authorize $2 billion in refundable investment tax credits for carbon capture technology and a 20-year, refundable carbon sequestration tax credit for plants that qualify for the carbon capture investment tax credit.

Driving Down Costs 

Moniz, who spoke on a panel alongside John Podesta, former climate and energy adviser to Obama and now head of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, said the U.S. has maintained its commitment through cutting-edge carbon capture and storage research and development efforts. Those include research under its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and cooperative efforts on CCS technology research with China, he added.

One of the “very promising” developments at ARPA-E addresses the challenge of reducing the cost of capturing carbon dioxide from power plants, Moniz said. Its focus, Moniz said, is to drive down the cost to where such technologies become commercially viable.

“As you know, the major cost driver is the capture side, as opposed to the sequestration” or storage of carbon dioxide, he said.

Moniz noted that he also will chair a ministerial meeting just weeks before the two weeks of high-level United Nations climate negotiations beginning Nov. 30 in Paris. The International Energy Agency energy ministerial, held every two years, will be held in Paris Nov. 17-18.

The IEA, first formed in 1974 in the wake of major disruptions in global oil supplies, is comprised of 29 member countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, Turkey and the U.S. But representatives from non-member countries also have attended in the past from China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and South Africa.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com