Carbon dioxide removal is the process of removing carbon pollution from the atmosphere via natural and technological methods, and will be an important tool for restoring a safe climate — once we’ve pretty much stopped sending more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Carbon capture and storage/sequestration (CCS), on the other hand, refers to scrubbing the carbon dioxide out of the emissions from fossil fuel plants, and is essentially a pipe dream that the fossil fuel industry invokes to pretend its continued existence is compatible with a stable climate, which it’s not. CCS is also a major part of the policy platforms of conservatives who want you to think they care about climate change (but not enough to actually reduce fossil fuel extraction or pollution).
Late last year, the Government Accountability Office published a report showing the $1.1 billion spent on CCS by the Department of Energy since 2009 was largely wasted. That money was for 11 projects, of which only three were built (the other eight were cancelled). And because managers at the DOE waived some cost controls, the government spent an additional and unnecessary $300 million on four of the unbuilt CCS projects. The single CCS project at a coal-fired plant that actually got built was the US’s only real CCS facility — and it shut down in May of 2020.
“Federal investments for CCS are greenwashing – they are simply fossil fuel subsidies by another name,” Grassroots Global Justice Alliance policy director Adrien Salazar told The Verge.
Nevertheless, CCS still enjoys ample support from conservatives who want to pretend like they care about climate change, and Democratic coal barons like Joe Manchin (D-ALEC).
In response to the GAO report detailing how the conservative-loved program is rife with government waste, the Carbon Capture Coalition tried to do some damage control, and apparently sent out a press release the conservative Washington Examiner ran with, about how they’re trying to “correct the record” and insist the technology is still worthwhile.
Over at the Daily Caller, though, Energy and Environment reporter Thomas Catenacci apparently hasn’t gotten the full memo on CCS being the climate policy conservatives pretend to support, and instead just covered last month’s GAO report just this week, with a frame of government waste for trying to reduce carbon emissions!
Now to be fair, the government should be investing tons of money in viable climate solutions as well as risky ones the private sector won’t yet risk investment in (Hi, Solyndra, we haven’t forgotten you!) because government support for emerging technologies can yield massive benefits. But when things like CCS fail, as they have over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, that should be a sign to stop burning coal mine dump trucks full of money chasing them.
Those billions of dollars, instead of getting wasted on unbuilt CCS plants meant to keep coal hobbling along, could have paid for something like 50,000 home solar systems, which tend to be much more costly than utility-scale renewables. And on that, for example, Biden’s DOE in 2021 announced just $128 million in funding to cut the cost of solar by 60%. Think of what ten times that much money could accomplish!
For another comparison, in 2020, a billion dollar deal got BP a 50% stake in two offshore wind projects big enough to power two million homes — a much better deal than getting a bunch of failed projects that (had they not failed) would have just continued to allow coal plants to pollute anyway.
A billion dollars is also how much MidAmerican Energy planned to spend in Iowa to replace old wind turbines and add a thousand new ones, adding up with the rest of their fleet to generate enough clean energy to power 95% of MidAmerican Energy customers’ needs.
Unfortunately, the bipartisan infrastructure package passed last year shells out another $3.5 billion on even more carbon capture demonstration projects.
CCS has had plenty of time for demonstration projects, and all they’ve demonstrated is how to waste billions of dollars on useless technology.
But yay, bipartisanship, right?