Carbon Capture and Sequestration Issues and Debate

Posted on November 27, 2007 by Jeff Thaler

The proposed construction of a 700-megawatt coal-and-biomass-fuel power plant on the site of a former nuclear power plant in Maine has sparked a great deal of analysis into current issues and technologies associated with carbon sequestration, including but not limited to coal power plants. The Twin River Energy Center in Maine proposed an innovative technology to convert coal and wood biomass to a nearly sulfur-and particulate-free gas that would be burned to drive steam turbines, as well as to create a small amount of diesel fuel. 

            As in many parts of the country, the project proposal kindled debate about the use of America’s substantial coal resources in a time of climate change and greenhouse gas concerns.   Consequently, a large conference was recently held by the Chewonki Foundation with participation of experts from around the country, as well as Twin River representatives, to discuss carbon capture and storage technologies and opportunities. The Twin River project would have the technology to capture carbon, but no ready sequestration site nearby presently exists. 

            The general consensus from conference presentations was that (1) carbon capture and sequestration will need to play an important role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, not only in the United States, but especially in China, India and other parts of the world; (2) at the present time, there is insufficient geological information -- both on land and below the ocean floor -- about the potential for carbon dioxide storage not only in Maine but in the Northeast in general; and (3) it is imperative that government, industry and environmental groups work together in exploring the viability of carbon sequestration. 

            Maine is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first carbon-and-trade program, which involves all Northeast states from Maine to Maryland, with the exception of Pennsylvania. Commencing January 1, 2009, it required reduction of pollution from the region’s largest power plants by 10% by 2019. However, while the region itself is not heavily dependent upon coal-fired generation, it is heavily dependent upon fossil-fuel generation, as well as being downwind of substantial coal-generated power to the west and south.

            During the Chewonki conference, findings were presented from the MIT Future of Coal Study; the U.S. Department of Energy presented on the priorities and challenges of carbon capture and storage; several speakers focused on technological issues of producing low-greenhouse gas liquid fuels, as well as the monitoring and site characterization for carbon storage; and a presentation was made by a Twin River consultant on the mine-to-wheels analysis of projected carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed plant. 

            A link to the carbon capture and storage presentations can be seen here.   After the presentation, local voters in Wiscasset rejected a change in the zoning ordinance concerning height of structures. The project developer is still intending to pursue the project following some refinements.

           In full disclosure, the author is lead environmental permitting attorney for the Twin River project, and his firm generally represents Twin River. For more information on the author, including contact information, please see firm website here.  



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