Saturday, August 23, 2008

capture unready

Continuing with the idea of carbon capture from coal-fired power stations, the new coal power stations the government's considering will be 'capture ready'. Nobody, government included, seems to have a precise definition of what this means in practice.

The nearest definition seems to be the one posited by LibDem Steve Webb: having a space in the car park or a socket you could screw into while the emissions pour out of the chimney. What's clear is that 'capture ready' doesn't mean a binding obligation to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as soon as it exists.

The government's says its competition to build a CCS plant will 'see CCS ready for commercial deployment by 2020' and 'CCS has the potential to capture up to 90% of damaging carbon emissions from coal fired power stations'. Nice clear numbers there.

Those crazy eco-dreamers at the Royal Society came up with a simple proposal based on them. If the government and the energy companies are really so sure that CCS is viable and imminent - and not a scam to take our eye off the ball and allow them to build new high-emitting coal stations - they should put their money where their mouth is. Let new coal-fired power stations be built and if, by 2020, they haven't reduced their emissions by 90%, shut them down.

Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, balks at the idea. He thinks the energy companies simply wouldn't build with that caveat.

I think if we did that at the moment, when we do not know 100% that CCS is going to work, the engineering has not yet been tested and no one is fully aware of what the costs might be, then that would put an end to coal-fired power stations

So the government is planning to approve the building of new coal-fired power stations not only without a commitment to install CCS when it becomes available but not even being sure if it ever will become available.

That, then, is saying that the uncaptured emissions would be acceptable. If you think they're unacceptable, you have to be against new coal-fired power stations.

It's very clear. We can burn coal or we can cut carbon emissions.

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