On Monday night, President Bush told the nation in his State of the Union address, "Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions." Yet by Tuesday this was already a distant memory.
Energy Secretary Samuel P. Bodman told Illinois lawmakers yesterday that the Bush administration may drop its support for FutureGen, a flagship $1.5 billion coal-fired power plant to be built in the state with cutting edge carbon capture and sequestration technology that would allow the plant to store its greenhouse gasses underground rather than releasing them into the atmosphere—the first plant of its kind. Other reports indicate that the Bush administration may decide to revamp the project rather than cut it entirely.
Canceling the FutureGen project would mean a big step backward for clean energy technology and the economy. Demonstration projects like FutureGen are essential to the success of this new technology. More research projects than FutureGen are certainly needed, but FutureGen was the flagship of this effort and a strong statement of U.S. commitment to carbon capture and storage of emissions from coal fired power plants.
FutureGen would have opened with an 85 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and later increased that level to 90 percent. If successful, this level of emission reduction would establish a clear technological path forward for coal, preserving its viability in a carbon-constrained world and giving the utility industry confidence to invest substantial sums in new coal-fired power generation.
Once projects like FutureGen demonstrate the viability of CCS technology, we must have a new source performance standard for all new coal fired power plants that requires they reduce their emissions by 85 percent, just like the FutureGen. In addition, the auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances should provide resources to help the new coal plants pay for the additional costs of CCS.
What’s more, this project would have proven that global warming solutions can mean new jobs, and new markets and investments in business in the United States. These are jobs that would be concentrated in areas such as construction and manufacturing that provide family-supporting wages, skill development, and career ladders. And once the technology is in place, it can be exported to markets in other countries such as China, which plans to build many coal plants.
Bodman issued a statement last night citing cost concerns and technological advances as reasons for reassessment for the project. It is true that project costs may be higher than initially anticipated, but the government and sponsoring corporations should quickly make up any shortfall to get the project back on track. Numerous companies and governments around the world have committed to supporting FutureGen with money and technological know-how and it would be a blow to future international public-private partnerships if the Bush administration were to allow these commitments to languish.
The fact is that we need five to six robust demonstration projects to provide the base of experience and data that will lay the foundation for widespread carbon capture and sequestration deployment as soon as possible. Experts recognize that CCS will be ready for widespread deployment by 2020, if not sooner, but to make this happen we must undertake and complete large-scale demonstration projects like FutureGen immediately. If the Bush administration derails or delays FutureGen, it would be a troubling roadblock to the urgent task of developing new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and addressing global warming.
For more information on the Center for American Progress’ policies on carbon capture and sequestration, see:
- Global Warming and the Future of Coal
- Capturing the Enerfy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy