The Push for Clean Carbon
Clean Carbon certainly feels like a very popular energy idea, given the dozens of U.S. companies that want to build new coal-fired electric plants that use systems to capture, store and ship massive quantities of the greenhouse gas. John Thompson is with Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group focused on climate change. He says that popularity has lead to about 25 carbon capture and storage projects in the U.S. that are in some form of what he calls “advanced development.” But at the moment, the plans aren’t going any further.
“Those projects are either waiting for regulations that drive CO2. Or incentives that help pay for building cleaner plants than what their competition must do,” said Thompson.
It’s the Stick and the Carrot. Companies have developed clean carbon plans, just in case the feds get around to regulating carbon output. That’s building in fear of the stick. State Representative Mark Strama (D-Austin) has been working on the carrot side of the equation.“Another way to drive them to do it is to give incentives,” said Strama, ”…financial incentives in the form of tax abatements, tax incentives or direct subsidies for those early adopters who adopt in the additional costs of capturing the CO2 admissions and putting it to productive use.”
There are two major clean carbon electric projects in Texas right now. Both would be built in West Texas. And both would use the carbon captured from using coal to create electricity to pump into oil wells to coax out additional oil. But neither is ready to break ground.
Just last week a judge recommended that the Texas Commission on Environmental Policy refuse to grant an air permit to the Tanaska plant, one of those two major projects, a move pushed for and applauded by the State’s Sierra Club. Mike Nasi is General Counsel to the Clean Coal Technology Foundation of Texas, the group hosting the Austin summit.
“If you push too far and you make a project not commercially viable, you functionally keep it from happening. And so that next step of generation advancement never happens,” said Nasi. “I’m a big supporter that when it comes to energy policy we need to stop defeating the good in search of the perfect.”
Eva Hernandez of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Texas said, “While we all know there is no such thing as “clean coal.” And the group will be out in full force when the TCEQ takes up the Tanaksa plant permit in December.
Ben Philpott covers state politics and policy for KUT News and the Texas Tribune.