Despite the steep price of CCS, Mountaineer is not alone. In the U.S., utilities are planning multibillion-dollar power plants that will incorporate CCS; by 2011 Alabama Power may outsequester Mountaineer and bury 150,000 tons of CO2 from its Plant Barry in the Citronelle Oil Field. Abroad, China has several test facilities, and in Iceland an international consortium of researchers will pump CO2 into underground basalt where it will react to form a carbonate mineral.
But even if CO2 is permanently locked away in rock, other environmental problems surrounding coal remain. The technology does nothing to remedy the impacts of coal mining, particularly mountaintop removal, or residual toxic fly ash, among other issues. Moreover, although the Environmental Protection Agency has begun to craft rules to regulate the CO2-injection wells, it is still unclear who owns the pore space resource as well as who assumes liability in the event of an accident, such as a sudden, geyserlike release of the gas.
Nevertheless, given looming regulation on emissions, utilities are anticipating extensive CCS installation in just the next few decades. “Our first full scale would be around 2015, and by 2025 we would have a pretty considerable amount constructed on large coal units,” Spitznogle says.
That means one thing: higher electricity prices. In May 2007 the Department of Energy estimated that capturing 90 percent of the CO2 with amine scrubbers would make electricity at a cost of more than $114 per megawatt-hour, compared with just $63 per megawatt-hour without CO2 capture. For the consumer, the extra cost would amount to about $0.04 per kilowatt-hour—a necessary price, perhaps, for less of the warming gas in the atmosphere.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Burying Climate Change."
This article was originally published with the title Burying Climate Change.