7 May 2008 – Policymakers should prioritise investments in sustainable energy solutions to stop the climate crisis and not pump vast amounts of taxpayers’ money into the elusive promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS), concludes Greenpeace in a new report, entitled “False Hope”.
The unproven technology for capturing the global warming gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from power station smokestacks and then dumping it underground is still on the drawing board. However, coal and power companies are exploiting the notion of so-called “capture ready” power plants to justify building new coal-fired power stations with no guarantee that CCS would ever be retrofitted to ‘capture’ CO2.
“Carbon capture and storage is a scam. It is the ultimate coal industry pipe dream,” said the report’s author, Emily Rochon, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace International. “It is insanity verging on criminal negligence to pass up clean energy and instead pin hopes on an unproven technology. Governments and businesses need to reduce their emissions not search for excuses for continuing to burn coal.”
Fraught with uncertainties over practicality and cost, CCS technology is not expected to be technically feasible before 2030 at best. If it ever matures, CCS will therefore arrive on the scene too late to play a role in combating climate change over the crucial next few years, or even decades. The consensus among climate experts is that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and be at least halved by 2050.
Futile investments in CCS threaten to starve existing clean renewable energy initiatives and energy-saving efforts of much-needed funds to ensure that dangerous climate change is prevented.
Enthusiasm for CCS is reaching fever pitch among coal and oil advocates, who have lost the battle over whether climate change is a problem, says Greenpeace.
Unable to look beyond the carbon economy, they are desperate to project CCS as the way to continue with ‘pollution-as-usual’.
The Greenpeace report shows that the technology falls short on numerous counts. Carbon capture technology has not been made to work on anything approaching the level needed for a full-scale power plant. And, no one has yet successfully combined the ‘capture’ with the ‘storage’ elements of the concept.
The increased energy requirements of CCS would effectively wipe out the power plant efficiency gains of the last 50 years. For every four CCS-equipped coal-fired power plants, a fifth would be needed to make up the energy shortfall. CCS could also double plant costs and lead to electricity price hikes estimated between 21 and 91 per cent. Storing CO2 underground also carries significant risks, says Greenpeace.
Long-term leakage rates as low as 1 per cent could cancel out any climate benefit. The potential environmental impacts also open up entirely new issues of liability.
Governments are being rushed by energy interests into throwing vast sums of public money at CCS.
In the United States, legislation introduced on Capitol Hill (Climate Security Act, S. 2191) would allocate US $424bn to a dedicated fund for CCS. The European Commission recently published a hasty and ill thought-out proposal for a draft Directive – an EU-wide law – on the geological storage of carbon dioxide.
The Commission is under pressure from power and energy lobbies to provide financial incentives for CCS. Australian Federal and State governments are devoting well over AUS $1 billion to CCS and “clean coal” projects, and Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources has created a CA $125m fund to develop CCS.
“Depending on the potential availability of CCS to capture emissions is about as smart as wilfully contracting a disease in the hope that medical science may one day provide a cure,” said Emily Rochon.