Carbon capture deployment on coal and natural gas power plants, boosted by bipartisan tax credits, can coexist with renewable energy as a climate solution, according to new analysis.
Growth in carbon capture deployment in the power sector, driven by the tax incentives, could lead to nearly 50 million metric tons of carbon captured and stored per year by 2030, a Feb. 12 report from the Clean Air Task Force found.
Those greenhouse gas reductions would equal taking 7 million cars off the roads.
That would account for more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide the International Energy Agency estimated the U.S. power sector must remove annually through carbon capture by 2030 to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Carbon capture separates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from emissions of power plants and other industrial facilities so it can be permanently stored or used, rather than released into the atmosphere.
The analysis suggests power sector carbon capture, which has been slow to commercialize because it is costly, could benefit significantly from the tax credits.
Congress, in a bipartisan budget deal passed in February 2018, extended and expanded the 45Q tax incentives for carbon capture, increasing the value of the credits and broadening the program to include more applications to use captured carbon, and research for nascent technologies like direct air capture.
“There is a policy pathway available to make [carbon capture and storage] become a climate solution at the scale that it needs to be,” Deepika Nagabhushan, an energy policy associate for the Clean Air Task Force and lead author of the study, told Bloomberg Environment.
The report finds that greater carbon capture deployment in the power sector doesn’t displace growth in renewable energy, which is a crucial conclusion, supporters of the technology said.
The report estimates the same amount of renewable power through 2030, even in the scenario where a growing number of existing coal plants and some natural gas plants retrofit with carbon capture equipment.
The report finds carbon capture projects in the power sector would displace existing, uncontrolled fossil fuels and not wind and solar power, Nagabhushan said.
“It shows that it’s additive,” she added. “The more technologies we have in our toolbox, the farther we’ll go.”
The finding could give carbon capture backers some support as the Green New Deal, championed by progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), prompts debate about which technologies should be included in a comprehensive climate policy.
It isn’t clear what role Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal backers see for carbon capture.
But the finding that carbon capture deployment doesn’t undercut renewables “just takes one more argument away from saying that we shouldn’t have robust support for carbon capture,” Brad Crabtree, vice president for carbon management at the Great Plains Institute, which advocates for carbon-free energy told Bloomberg Environment.
Pitting carbon capture and renewable energy technologies against each other impedes progress toward cutting carbon quickly, Crabtree added.
But even with the boost to power sector carbon capture the 45Q credits offer, the Clean Air Task Force suggests a suite of additional policies could further expand deployment of the technology.
For example, one barrier to broader deployment is “the lack of a robust pipeline infrastructure,” Richard Jackson, senior vice president of operations support at Occidental Petroleum Corp., told Bloomberg Environment in a statement.
Occidental has invested in several carbon capture projects linked to enhanced oil recovery, and the company formed a subsidiary last year, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC, focused on carbon capture and other low-carbon technologies.
“The 45Q legislation may help with the economic feasibility of locating CO2 pipelines along corridors where there are many capture and sequestration project opportunities, thereby creating business, jobs, and more energy,” Jackson added.
The Clean Air Task Force report finds power sector carbon capture development focused in a handful of states—California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.
That is in part due to both existing pipeline infrastructure and the proximity to enhanced oil recovery operations, which use captured carbon dioxide to produce oil.
But that deployment could expand to other states and regions, such as the Midwest and northern plains if the pipeline infrastructure is built out, Crabtree said.
He added those pipelines should be part of any broad infrastructure package pursued by Congress or the Trump administration this year.
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