Coal and the Hope of Carbon Capture
By Allen Best
June 25, 2020 - In New Mexico, the Escalante coal plant will close later this year. In Colorado, the first of the Comanche plants will close in 2023, and one of the Craig units in 2025.
But still, hope remains that carbon capture and storage technology will arrive in time.
Jason Begger, executive of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (soon to be the Wyoming Energy Authority), drew attention to his state’s ongoing effort to “turn a liability into an asset.” Speaking on a webinar sponsored by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Begger drew attention to the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, which he described as the largest coal-combustion research center in the United States.
Located near Gillette, the center is the host site for $20 million in prize money through the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition. There are divisions for both coal and natural gas. Within the coal category there were 12 teams creating technologies for use at a coal plant.
The winners—which Begger said he hopes will be announced by early next year—demonstrate technology that can best remove carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion.
The hope is that the technology can be scaled up and spread across the world.
“This isn’t just about power plants. Oil plants are huge emitters of CO2, too,” he said. “You are going to have to move these emissions from the sources to places where they can be used.”
Wyoming also sees coal as the key to firming up renewables, because of the baseload generation.
He also said that for the United States to not burn coal will not provide the global answer for warming. “It doesn’t matter what an individual state is doing,” he said. He pointed to Asian countries—India, South Korea, and China among them—who have or will surpass the U.S. in carbon emissions.
Wyoming contributed $15 million to the prize money, and Tri-State Generation & Transmission $5 million. Basin Electric, a partner with Tri-State on a coal plant at Wheatland, Wyo., provided the facility.
Hope also continues in New Mexico, where the Public Service Co. plans to stop operating the 847-megawatt San Juan Generating Station by mid-2022. A company called Enchant Energy Corp. will get the plant near Farmington for $1—yes, one George Washington—and plans to spend $1.3 billion for a carbon-capture system that would reduce emissions by as much as 90%.
Peter Mandelstam, the chief operating officer for Enchant, told Bloomberg earlier this month that a federal tax credit similar to what allowed wind energy to prosper, was crucial to the New Mexico project. “The Enchant project only works if the tax credit is in place.”
Bloomberg explained that Congress more than doubled the tax credit in 2018, providing $50 for every metric ton of CO2 that’s sequestered, or $35 a ton for producing oil worth the captured carbon. Financing, however, was held up by unanswered tax questions. The IRS issued proposed regulations in May.
CCS—the “S” sometimes stands for storage, and in other cases sequestration— has had a checkered history. The federal government has bestowed many billions of dollars in aid for projects, most notably of late at the Southern Co.’s Kemper plant in Mississippi. But Southern pulled the plug in 2017 because of cost overruns. Similar problem caused a project in Illinois to be shelved about a decade ago.
One problem has been that it takes so much power—about a third of electrical generation at a plant—to sequester the carbon.
Even so, 13 commercial systems are operating in the United States, and 30 more are in development, according to the Carbon Capture Coalition.
At least one Colorado utility also remains interested in carbon capture. Jeff Lyng, director of energy and environmental policy for Xcel Energy said in the webinar that “advanced” carbon capture remains one of the options for the utility to achieve its stated goal of achieving zero-emissions energy. Alice Jackson, president of Xcel’s Colorado division, said the same thing in late April at a Denver Museum of Nature and Science event. Xcel is the primary owner of Comanche 3, a coal plant at Pueblo that was projected to continue
Lyng also identified the following as being possible pathways for Xcel to its mid-century goal of zero-emissions:
- advanced, dispatchable renewables
- zero-carbon fuels
- advanced nuclear, modular reactors
- long-duration storage and demand response. By long duration, Lyng specified, he means days, weeks and months – not merely hours.