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Archive for the ‘Coal/ CCS’ Category

Chu revives FutureGen

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on June 12, 2009

Not shocking. There’s a lot for CCS in the stimulus bill ($3.4 billion including the $1billion for FutureGen), Waxman-Markey, and S.1013.  This is both in terms of incentives and setting regulations to reduce future uncertainty.

In keeping with the theme of digging up old forgotten things, here’s some vintage (c.2008) CT discussion of CCS/FutureGen here, here, and here.

H/T: Green Inc.

Update: Environmental Capital has a post up which, unlike mine, has more than a link to a story.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | Leave a Comment »

Visualizing the Grid

Posted by jab12004 on May 7, 2009

I’m a huge fan of NPR, and they just finished running a series on the U.S. electrical grid and how we can/might move forward.  The full story can be found here.

My favorite part, however, is the interactive map they put together on the grid.  You can see the current and potential future incarnations of the grid and sources of power.

A fun game you can play is “guess which senators are more likely to be against cap-and-trade.”  All you have to do is select the sources of power tab, select coal and see which states are darker.

Have fun!

Posted in Cap and Trade, Climate Change, Coal/ CCS, Electricity, Wind | 3 Comments »


Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on April 30, 2009

I keep hearing about how we need really high carbon prices (or a revenue allocation scheme that does not blunt the consumer’s pain) or else we’ll never move from coal to renewables.  But if we cap carbon emissions, how does it matter where they’re coming from?  I realize there are some path dependency issues with coal and scale and (largely unproven) LBD advantages to using renewables now, but in general where do we get this idea that the goal of carbon policy is to end all coal use?  Instead of cap-and-trade, maybe the government should just get the military involved and take out all coal plants.

Posted in Climate Change, Coal/ CCS | 3 Comments »

How the DOE deflated FutureGen

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on March 11, 2009

The NYTimes reports that the GAO released a report showing that in calling for the cancellation of FutureGen (the integrated IGCC, CCS, hydrogren demonstration plant), they compared the original estimated cost in constant dollars to a new estimate that was in current dollars.  Now to be fair, just last week I screwed up deflating some data.  To be reasonable, I was not determining the fate of a billion-dollar project:

According to the report, in calculating the costs of the project, the Energy Department mistakenly compared two numbers that should not have been used together. One cost estimate was made in so-called constant dollars, reflecting the purchasing power of a dollar in 2005, and the other in dollars as they would have been spent over the following few years, worth less each year because of inflation.

The Bush administration said the projected cost had nearly doubled, to $1.8 billion from $950 million; the auditors said it had gone to $1.3 billion, up 39 percent.

Ummm…this is not new.  I went to a hearing of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee back on May 8, 2008.  I never got around to writing a post, but looking through my old notes from that hearing, I can tell you with certainty that both Sens. Durbin and Dorgan directly asserted that the main source of cost overruns was due to inflation accounting.  Then-Secretary of Energy Bodman denied this, and kept claiming he didn’t know what the source of the overruns were, but that the other folks at DOE surely had the answer.

As it turned out, those in attendance only had to wait half an hour or so for the answer.  And it came from FutureGen chairman Paul Thompson.  To paraphrase, he said that the project cost was indeed $1.8 million — in nominal dollars.  That hearing was zeroing in on an answer.  Too bad Bodman left the hearing before Thompson gave his testimony.

Indeed FutureGen’s costs rose — as delays continued, it cost money to hold up construction, interest accrued, and so on.  But 50 percent of the overrun claimed by the DOE was due to a clerical error.  Competence and honesty points abound for the Bush administration.

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Idiots | 3 Comments »

W’s green legacy

Posted by Rich Sweeney on March 9, 2009

There’s been a lot of back and forth about clean coal in the news and on the teevee lately. This week’s Economist has a nice summary of the current state of the CCS technology (not to be confused with CSS, which is way cooler) and the main challenges it faces.

Thinking about CCS yesterday, I realized that no single person has helped Al Gore and the clean coal skeptics more than President Bush. IMO the most convincing argument this camp makes is that clean coal doesn’t exist, and possibly never will. Yet this charge could be easily countered if FutureGen had proceded as planned.  It’s been over a year since W killed the world’s first utility scale zero emissions coal plant, and we still haven’t really figured out what happend (the last administration clearly wasn’t overly concerned with budget deficits or with private contracts running over budget). While Obama’s budget contains considerable funds for CCS projects, including FuterGen (no surprise, it’s in Illinois), the clean coal lobby has lost valuable time and position in the PR war. Both Bingaman and Markey are set to introduce national RPS bills which will give renewables a sizable advantage in the race to become the government’s mitigation tech of choice. Also, the main Republican argument for delaying carbon policy, that emissions reductions will be way cheaper in the future, has lost a lot of steam, ironically, thanks to W.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | Leave a Comment »

World Bank: IGCC = clean technology

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 29, 2009

Oh dear god.  David Wheeler over at the Center for Global Development’s Views from the Center blog writes that the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund Trust Fund Committee is voting on investment criteria that would make “best available coal technology” eligible for subsidy as a clean technology (it’s a good post).  I believe this refers to higher-efficiency IGCC plants that could hypothetically later be retrofitted for CCS.  I think that at this point, CCS is so untested at large scales that claiming IGCC plants to be low-carbon technology because of this potential extension is completely ridiculous.  Let’s just start clearing space for all the sweet fusion power plants that we might possibly build someday maybe.

I guess can see a situation in which investing in modern coal plants would increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions in the short term, to be replaced/augmented by low-carbon energy technologies (CCS, wind, solar) when the costs and technology uncertainty have decreased in the future.  In addition, it will probably be important for the developing world to have some capacity to start using CCS — if it works, if costs fall, and if there is no sufficiently prevalent superior alternative.  Regardless, under the present levels of uncertainty associated with scaling up CCS any time soon, the path dependency problem of subsidizing IGCC plants under the guise of clean technology is troubling.

Technology transfer is going to have to play an enormous role in solving climate change., but this is probably not the way to move forward.

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Development, Energy Technology, Idiots | 1 Comment »

Coal bed methane and CCS

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on December 16, 2008

Although I’m unsure that carbon capture and sequestration is the sliver bullet that it’s made out to be, it clearly is a technology worth exploring.  We do have a ridiculous amount of cheap coal in this nation, and a way to somehow use it without spitting a bunch of carbon into the atmosphere would be welcome.   Right now, one way to progress on this front is to test permanency of CCS deposits.  The Southeastern Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB) has one such project going on right now (not surprisingly covered in a West Virginia newspaper).  CO2 is sequestered deep in coal seams, which currently hold methane.  The seams have an affinity for CO2, thus the methane is captured for use while the CO2 remains below.  This value-added type of CCS is more economically viable than straight CCS, although still a net loss without a carbon price.  However, opportunities are obviously limited in quantity.  A major risk argument against CCS is going to be storage permanence; if CCS technologies become viable, long-term small-scale demonstrations are going to provide extremely useful information to back up the best predictions of models.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | 1 Comment »

Assorted links

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 7, 2008

1. What is the likely direction of energy and climate policy under the new Obama administration and a Democratic Congress?  Joe Romm gives his thoughts on E&E TV; here is a panel of respondents at Green Inc.  There is a fair amount of wishful thinking floating around.  Count me among the skeptics that a cap-and-trade bill will pass in calendar year 2009.

2. Henry Waxman has launched an insurgency against John Dingell, attempting to take over as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  If you have an E&E Daily subscription there is a good article here.  Brad Plumer also provides ungated commentary at the Vine.  I don’t really know much about this but I will take a shot in the dark and predict that Dingell is not going anywhere.

3. Obama will keep Bush’s ethanol mandate.  Blech.

4. Here is another (longer) version of that story about carbon sequestration that Rich linked below.  Here is Sarah Forbes of WRI talking about guidelines they have published for CCS.

5. The Economist has a story this week on urbanization, largely touting its benefits.  It is a nice mix of economic geography and history.  Hmmm, no byline of course, but could this be the work of urbanist Ryan Avent?  Speaking of Ryan, he is blogging from a conference this week on urban design in a post-oil age; here he discusses the role of urban design in solving climate change.

6. And in (mostly) non-environmental economics news, everyone is aware, right, that one of the worst wars/humanitarian crises of the last half-century has now reignited in a big way in eastern Congo?  (Yes, I could make this on topic for the blog by discussing the natural resource curse but given the scale of the crisis at the moment that seems coldly academic.)  For those who are perplexed by (shamefully cursory Western) media coverage of events I recommend this post and its four predecessors from Wronging Rights.

Posted in 2008 Elections, Biofuels, Climate Change, Coal/ CCS, International, Natural Resources, Urban | Leave a Comment »

Ironic discovery of the day: Middle East could be the key to reducing atmospheric CO2

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 7, 2008

From Green Car Congress:

Researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have concluded that the in situ carbonation of peridotite, a type of rock found at or near the surface in Oman and other areas around the world, could consume more than 1 billion tons of CO2 per year in Oman alone, affording a low-cost, safe, and permanent method to capture and store atmospheric CO2.

Their studies show that the rock reacts naturally at surprisingly high rates with CO2 to form solid minerals, and that the process could be speeded by multiple orders of magnitude with simple drilling and injection methods. The study appears in this week’s early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

H/T to Tmoney.

Posted in Climate Change, Coal/ CCS | 1 Comment »

Shortest nonsense of the week

Posted by Danny Morris on October 17, 2008

Sorry guys, I’m a little slow. Here’s a McCain nugget from Wednesday night:

…clean coal technology is key…

McCain has support on this one too, namely from Obama. Everyone loves clean coal these days. It was brought up in all three Presidential debates and the Vice Presidential debate as well. Joe Biden got himself in trouble for saying Obama was against it. Now’s he’s shoveling it with everyone else on the clean coal train, which presumably looks like this:

BUT, the smoke is clear, anti-bacterial, and has the slightest hint of lemon.

Sorry kids, but there is no such thing as clean coal. Three out of four candidates probably know this already, but they are going to keep advocating it because America has a ridiculous amount of coal and it plays well in the heartland. I normally don’t get riled up about this sort of pandering, but talking about coal in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is annoying and silly. John, Barack, stop being silly please.

The Christian Science Monitor‘s Bright Green Blog has a good take on defining what clean coal actually is here. It consistently has some interesting stuff, and thus has been added to the blogroll.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | 3 Comments »


Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on August 5, 2008

From the Austin American-Statesman:

But in May, Greenpeace issued a report titled False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won’t Save the Climate, which said carbon capture has not been commercially tested, distracts from efficiency measures in power plants and will cause power prices to rise. The report accused coal companies of trying to sell carbon capture as a way of staying in business, since carbon caps could crack down on their emissions (emphasis added).

The group said the government should invest in efficiency measures and alternative power technologies, like wind and solar, instead.

I’m not sure how Greenpeace thinks we are going to abate our carbon emissions without experiencing some sort of electricity price increase.  (Please excuse the following caricature of electricity markets.)  CCS will indeed make coal-fired power more expensive.  And it will become competitive as the price of traditional coal power plus carbon costs surpass those costs.  Under a cap-and-trade system, it’s conventional wisdom that a carbon price will get passed through by electric utilities to the consumer.  So we should turn entirely to wind and solar?  As we know, there are problems of physical capital availability, transmission infrastructure, and of course higher costs.

As for the comment about coal companies selling CCS as a way to stay in business, well, no kidding.  They are a firm with profit incentives, and they are trying to find technologies that allow their product to stay competitive under carbon regulations.  I’m not saying that I’m 100% behind CCS, but just because a firm is supporting something for profitability’s sake doesn’t mean that it’s automatically an evil idea.  I’d be interested to see how much switching entirely to efficiency, wind, and solar by 2020 would “cause power prices to rise.”  I imagine some blackouts might be involved as well.  Just saying.

On a related note, I’ve started sending text message warnings to my friends when I see Greenpeace fundraisers outside Whole Foods.

Q: Do you care about the environment?

A: No.  In fact, I’m off to burn some tires.  Bye.

Posted in Cap and Trade, Coal/ CCS | 1 Comment »


Posted by Daniel Hall on July 28, 2008

I have been wondering when this was going to happen — with oil prices this high and a decided shift in rhetoric coming from ‘official’ venues such as the IEA about long-term supply, it seemed like it could only be a matter of time before someone would construct a coal-to-liquids (CTL) plant.

Coal is abundant and still relatively cheap (despite recent price increases).  And the article notes that you can use really cheap grades of coal for the CTL process.

It seems to me like CTL puts a backstop on how high oil prices can remain in the long run, at least if coal production is not constrained.  Of course in a world with a price on carbon emissions the CTL fuel is going to have to be a good bit cheaper than oil on a production-cost basis, since CTL involves about 3 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil.

The MIT report on coal — my go-to reference for all things coal — estimates that liquid fuels can be produced using CTL for about $50 per barrel, and that you can add on carbon capture and storage relatively cheaply, raising the price to $55 per barrel [Appendix 3.F].  (NB: this assumes you build in CCS from the beginning and that you can clear the siting and technical hurdles involved in CCS.)  That is a relatively low backstop.  While I’m personally skeptical that the long-term price for oil will be quite that low, this does at least put in perspective current forecasts from the EIA or IEA that the long-term price of oil will be around $70-80 per barrel.

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Oil | 2 Comments »

FutureGen quote of the day

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on May 5, 2008

Sen Kit Bond (R-MO) compared DOE’s change of heart to leaving the project “at the altar choosing three younger, cheaper women.”

Wow. The Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee is having a hearing on FutureGen this week. The witnesses are Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and FutureGen Chairman Paul Thompson. I think this quote indicates that it’s going to be nothing if not entertaining — stay tuned for a first-hand account.

For interested DC readers, the hearing is Thursday at 9:30am at 192 Dirksen Senate Building.

H/T: Shalini.

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Events | Leave a Comment »

The future of coal

Posted by Daniel Hall on March 20, 2008

There is a really interesting discussion about coal going on over at Ryan Avent’s blog, first at this post, and then at this one.  The conversation got spurred by articles in the New York Times and Washington Post.

By the way, the title of this post is pilfered from the MIT study of the same name that came out last year.  It is required reading for anyone interested in this topic.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | Leave a Comment »

CCS and the long haul

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on February 29, 2008

When carbon capture and sequestration is discussed, the phrase “in perpetuity” tends to come up. This cannot be literal, but what we conceptualize as forever is at least a very long time, and someone needs to be liable (or at least responsible) for potential damages related to geological sequestration (GS).

I recently attended an EPA public workshop on Underground Injection Control (UIC) regulations for carbon sequestration. The Agency is in the midst of writing regs pertaining to GS of carbon, and they were looking for input. It was made perfectly clear that no comments were to be attributed to participants during the main session, so there’s going to be a lot of anonymity in this post.

I went to a breakout session on financial assurance of long-term site care and monitoring (LTCM). Although the discussion was meant to focus on EPA regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act, it spread to broader themes of long-term liability and responsibility. Specifically, the conversation quickly turned to state indemnification (Note: EPA has no authority under the UIC regime to transfer liability away from the owner/operator of a site; it would take an act of Congress to do so).

The main argument for indemnification in GS is that uncertainty reigns at this point, and the damages associated with a major release or leak are sufficiently large as to deter investment in sites. One of the speakers countered this idea, stating that there are surely some firms that would be willing to take on this liability — it all depends on whom you want in the GS business. In response, a participant memorably noted that to store carbon “in perpetuity”, we need an institution to last as long. He suggested the Catholic Church, as it has significantly split only once in the past 2000 years or so. Joking aside, his point was that corporations are too short-lived to take on liability stretching far into the future. However, he claimed that a nation would be the next-best option.

Indemnification is by no means new to the U.S. government. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Regulation | Leave a Comment »

Baby steps for CCS demonstration

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on February 22, 2008

One of the most frustrating aspects of the DOE-FutureGen-pullout fiasco was that CCS is the sort of large-scale, high-risk technology that needs to be demonstrated. Thus, it’s good to see that Battelle began pumping 10,000 tons of CO2 into a saline aquifer. These underground veins are often touted as a major class of sequestration location for CCS.

“The (saltwater) formations that we’re looking at, there is very little known about them,” said John Litynski, project manager for the Department of Energy. “We’ll get a wealth of information just from doing these small projects.”

It is important to simply begin trying out this technology with CO2 that will otherwise be released into the atmosphere. The information gleaned will inform both investment and regulatory decision-making.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | 1 Comment »

CO2: waste or resource?

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on February 5, 2008

At the Congressional hearing on CCS I recently attended, Lawrence Bengal (Director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission) made an interesting point that CO2 disposal might not be best viewed as a waste management issue, as it is so often framed. Although we are dealing with the storage of an unwanted substance, there are only so many prime locations in which to stash it. Bengal pointed out that there will be competition for the best pore space and that we shouldn’t waste it. I imagine this has to do with parameters such as storage security, ease of access, and location relative to large coal facilities. If so, will prices properly reflect these differences in quality? Even if CO2 never becomes a viable commodity, should we be looking at the sequestration stage as a resource management problem?


Posted in Coal/ CCS | 2 Comments »

CCS on the Hill: FutureGen, Regulation, and Public Perception

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on February 5, 2008

I went to a hearing on the Hill last Thursday pertaining to regulatory aspects of carbon capture, transport, and sequestration. The hearings were for the benefit of two bills (S. 2144 and S. 2323) making their way through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but were also conveniently held the day after the DOE announced it was backing out of the FutureGen project (at least in its current manifestation).

Indeed, the big attraction for many in attendance was the presence of James Slutz, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the DOE Office of Natural Gas and Petroleum. In a bold move, he started off asserting that “DOE has assumed the lead in CCS technology”. When pressed by Sen. Barrasso to explain how eroded confidence in public-private partnerships can be rejuvenated after the DOE FutureGen pullout, Slutz simply replied that “when a project doubles in cost, it’s time to rework the agreement”, that the project was “no longer in the interest of the American people”, and that market-based plants would be more successful. Aside from the fact that a large proportion of the cost overruns are related to inflation and delays, this statement also completely ignores the point of public-private demonstration partnerships. There is an enormous amount of risk involved in this type of project and, as such, it would not be viable as a purely private endeavor. FutureGen was not designed to be profitable, it was designed to demonstrate commercial-scale technology.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Public Opinion, Regulation | 1 Comment »

The joys of public finance – FutureGen edition

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 31, 2008

Just when it seemed that both parties were hopping on the public clean energy promotion bandwagon, the FutureGen project reminds us just how bad the government is at doing this sort of thing. The Bush-sponsored clean coal project once described by Andrew Revkin as being in “perpetual creep mode” now appears to have completely halted. Whereas the initial plan (and working assumption for the past 4 years) was that the government would pick up almost 75% of the pilot CCS plant’s costs, the DOE announced yesterday that it was “restructuring” its approach, which is government speak for backing out.

Just last month the FutureGen Alliance announced its selection of Mattoon, IL as the site of the the pilot plant. This was the culmination of an enormous amount of planning, research, and negotiation. The DOE’s explanation for it’s decision back out is twofold. First, it says that cost projections for the site were ballooning out of control (shocking). However, Durbin and the industry alliance answered this complaint by offering to to pay 50% of any further cost overruns upfront, and use revenue from the facility to pay back the DOE’s 50% later. Then the DOE announced that it was more than just the cost overruns. Unlike the original plans, which called for the sponsorship of an entire clean coal plant, the government feels that it should only really support the CCS component of the power plant, not the whole thing. This will allow the DOE to take all its eggs out of the Mattoon basket, and sponsor multiple CCS pilots at the same time.

So what the hell happened here? Well it depends on your perspective:

DOE: “This restructured approach allows DOE to maximize the role of private sector innovation, provide a ceiling on federal contributions, and accelerate the Administration’s goal of increasing the use of clean energy technologies to help meet the steadily growing demand for energy while also mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. ”

FutureGen Alliance: “We wuz robbed. Everyone’s teaming up to kill coal in America.”

Dick Durbin: “When the city of Mattoon, Illinois, was chosen over possible locations in Texas, the secretary of Energy set out to kill FutureGen.”

Texas: Werd.

Optimist’s View: The government made a rational decision to spend its money more wisely and to diversify its risks.

Cynic’s view: How do you promote CCS without spending government money? Tell a group of investors that you’ll match any money they’ve spent 3 to 1, and then pull out when the project is too far along to simply abandon.

Regardless of which story you buy, the story continues to be “Too much future, too little gen.”

Thanks to Shalini for the pointer and background info.

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Government Policy | 2 Comments »

Comfortably NUMB(y)?

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 24, 2008

You’ve heard of NIMBYism. While as carbon capture and sequestration becomes technologically and economically viable, keep an eye out for NUMBYism. Not Under My BackYard. Seriously. Daniel had it absolutely right with this earlier post. People talk about CCS like its the holy grail now, but I bet it’ll be Yucca Mountain all over again once siting begins. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Shalini for filling me in on the latest siting lingo.

Posted in Coal/ CCS | Leave a Comment »