March 2016

Post image for Carbon Capture and Storage: Adequately Demonstrated?

EPA claims carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the “adequately demonstrated” best system of emission reduction (BSER) for new coal-fired power plants. Is it?

“Adequately demonstrated” roughly means commercially viable. In its so-called Carbon Pollution Standards rule for new fossil-fuel power plants, finalized last October, EPA repeatedly sites SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3 project in Saskatchewan as evidence CCS technology is ready for prime time.

However, the New York Times reports this week, Boundary Dam 3 “has been plagued by multiple shutdowns, has fallen way short of its emissions targets, and faces an unresolved problem with its core technology. The costs, too, have soared, requiring tens of millions of dollars in new equipment and repairs.”

Superficially, Boundary Dam 3 looks like an ideal candidate for CCS technology. “Hundreds of years of coal reserves are buried under the ground nearby, virtually eliminating transportation costs.” The project “received a major Canadian subsidy.” It has a 10-year contract to sell captured CO2 to Cenovus Energy, which injects the gas underground to extract “tertiary” oil from older wells — a process known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

Yet recently released confidential internal documents show that instead of capturing 90% of the plant’s CO2 as intended, the system is working at “only 45 percent of capacity.” One document “cited eight major problem areas. Fixing them, it said, could take a year and a half, and the memo warned that it was not immediately apparent how to resolve some problems.”


A chart covering the first year of operation showed that the system often didn’t work at all. When it was turned back on after shutdowns for adjustments and repairs, the amount of carbon captured sometimes even dropped.

One shutdown last year cost the company C$17 million, and repeated shutdowns have forced SaskPower to miss CO2 deliveries to Cenovus. The penalties totaled C$7 million, canceling out most of the C$9 million in sales.

A more permanent challenge is the energy penalty inherent in CCS technology:

On top of that, the carbon system is a voracious consumer of the electricity generated by Boundary Dam, which has 150 megawatts of capacity. [SaskPower CEO] Mr. [Mike] Marsh testified that about 30 megawatts of capacity were consumed by the system, and an additional 15 to 16 megawatts were needed to compress the carbon dioxide.

Tim Boersma, the acting director of the energy security and climate initiative at the Brookings Institution, said that extensive power loss is a significant factor keeping other utilities from following SaskPower’s lead.

“That is exactly the reason this is not going to fly,” Mr. Boersma said. “The plant’s efficiency goes down so dramatically.”

So much for the gory details. Let’s consider the big picture. [click to continue…]

Post image for Renewable Fuel Standard: Fact Checking RFA Chief Bob Dinneen

E&E news reporter Monica Trauzzi yesterday interviewed Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). They discussed the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Today’s post will examine one of Dinneen’s answers that is dense with misinformation. Before examining it, though, some basic background may be helpful.


The RFS is a central planning scheme requiring specified volumes of biofuels to be sold in the nation’s motor fuel supply over a 17-year period. As incorporated into the Clean Air Act by the so-called Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the quota for total renewable fuels increase from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

The RFS, however, also authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to make annual adjustments to the quota (known as Renewable Volume Obligations or RVOs) if the administrator determines there is an “inadequate domestic supply.”

Renewable fuel lobbyists have been castigating EPA ever since November 2013 when the agency, for the first time, proposed to reduce the statutory targets based on the “blend wall” — a set of market constraints limiting the supply of biofuels that can actually be sold to consumers.  Although the final RVOs adopted by EPA in November 2015 restored much of the cutbacks proposed in 2013, Dinneen and other renewable fuel lobbyists continue to cry foul and demand that EPA force refiners to buy ethanol at the statutory volumes.

Contrary to popular misconception, the RFS does not expire after 2022. Rather, the Clean Air Act leaves it up to EPA to decide post-2022 targets based on the agency’s assessment of various factors such as the impacts of biofuel production and use on the environment, energy security, and job creation.

Bumper Crop of Misinformation

Monica Trauzzi: So you need the RFS post-2022?

Bob Dinneen: Again, until there is a truly free marketplace. You know, ethanol is not subsidized today. The only liquid transportation fuel that receives a subsidy from the taxpayer is, oh, oil. You know, we’re paying refiners to drill deeper in the Gulf of Mexico and to frack in North Dakota and Texas. We aren’t subsidized. I want to see the renewable fuels industry continue to evolve. I want to see new technologies. I want to see new feedstocks. I want to see us get beyond the 10 percent blend wall. All of that happens if the EPA grows a backbone and implements this program in the way that it was intended to be implemented so that refiners have to invest in the infrastructure to allow E85, to enable E15 to be sold. It’s not that hard.

Dinneen has made those points before, so he’s not speaking off the cuff but presenting a settled position. Time for a fact check. [click to continue…]

Post image for Climate Bullies: Dems Ask S.E.C. to Target Shell

Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) are at it again. In October, they asked Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White to “investigate ExxonMobil’s past filings to determine whether security laws were violated by failing to disclose material risks related to climate change.” This week they asked her to investigate Shell Oil’s filings to determine if the company “similarly violated securities laws by not properly disclosing climate-related risks.”

Lieu et al. claim the oil companies have known for decades about the seriousness of climate change risks, yet hid those risks from the public by funding ‘denier’ groups. As evidence, they cite an L.A. Times article titled “Big oil braced for global warming while it fought regulations.” The Times reporters claim both companies made significant investments to protect their facilities from sea-level rise, hence must have known how dangerous climate change is. Let’s see if there is anything to that line of argument. [click to continue…]