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Carbon Capture and Storage: A Corporate Boondoggle That Shortchanges Environment, Consumers, Says New Greenpeace Report

July 6, 2010

In the midst of a climate crisis and record energy prices, policymakers must not succumb to the false promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which would prolong dependence on dirty and dangerous energy sources and reward the world’s biggest polluters, says a new Greenpeace report released today.

The technology seeks to capture carbon dioxide from power plants
and store it underground. But, despite being unproven and
expensive, coal and power companies are advertising the scheme as a
solution to global warming in order to justify building new
coal-fired power plants, the single largest contributor to global
warming. The Greenpeace report, “False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and
Storage Won’t Save the Climate,” calls on governments to invest in
safe, clean and proven energy technologies like wind and solar to
find a long-term solution to the climate crisis.

“Carbon capture and storage is a scam. It is the ultimate coal
industry pipe dream,” said the report’s author, Emily Rochon,
climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace International.
“Governments and businesses need to reduce their emissions-not
search for excuses to keep burning coal.”

Fraught with uncertainties about its effectiveness and cost, CCS
technology is not expected to be commercially available until 2030,
while the world’s leading climate experts have said global
greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2015 and be cut by
at least half by 2050 to avoid the most catastrophic consequences
of climate change. Thus, even if the technology proved viable, it
wouldn’t be available until long after the window for meaningful
action to halt global warming has closed. Even if CCS reaches
commercial viability, coal-fired power plant capacity is expanding
so rapidly that as much as 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions
from power generation in 2050 may not be technically suited to
CCS.

The Greenpeace report also reveals the technology to be woefully
inadequate on numerous other counts. First, the concept has not
been successfully tested at a scale necessary for application to
full size power plants. Second, designers have failed to integrate
the carbon ‘capture’ and  ‘storage’ elements of the proposed
technology, the central element of its success. Third, the
technology uses between 10 to 40 percent of the power plant’s
energy capacity. Wide scale adoption of CCS is expected to erase
the efficiency gains of the past 50 years, and increase resource
consumption by one third. For example, for every four CCS-equipped
coal-fired power plants, a fifth would have to be added to make up
for the new energy demands. Fourth, CCS could double the operating
cost of power plants and lead to electricity price hikes estimated
between 21 and 91 percent. Fifth, storing carbon dioxide
underground carries significant risks. Long-term leakage rates as
low as one percent could erase any benefit to the climate. Finally,
the potential environmental impacts from carbon sequestration
underground on land or at sea open a host of new liability
issues.

Enthusiasm for CCS emerged after coal advocates could no longer
deny the problem of global warming. Energy interests are pressuring
governments to throw vast sums of public money at CCS. In the
United States, legislation introduced on Capitol Hill (Climate
Security Act, S. 2191) would allocate over a half trillion or more
in U.S. dollars to a dedicated fund for CCS. The European
Commission recently published hasty and ill-considered proposals
for a draft Directive – an European Union law – on the geological
storage of carbon dioxide. The Commission is under pressure from
power and energy lobbies to provide financial incentives for CCS.
Australian federal and state governments are devoting well over $1
billion to CCS and “clean coal” projects and Canada’s Minister of
Natural Resources has created a $125 million fund to develop
CCS.

Greenpeace is also opposed to the building of so-called “capture
ready” power plants – conventional power stations that pump out
millions of tons of carbon dioxide that power companies may or may
not choose to invest in “capturing” at some time in the future.

“There is an immediate window for the U.S. to address the most
urgent effects of global warming and CCS is a dangerous distraction
from real solutions,” said Kate Smolski, legislative coordinator
for Greenpeace USA. “To add insult to injury, Congress is
attempting to further increase its subsidies to the coal industry
by throwing additional taxpayer dollars at this risky technology.”
Every dollar spent on CCS is a dollar not available for clean and
proven technologies such as wind and solar.”

In contrast, Greenpeace believes that greatly improving energy
efficiency and relying on renewable energy can halve global
greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Global renewable energy resources
are sufficient to meet six times the world’s current energy demand.
More than 85 non-governmental organizations have joined Greenpeace
in demanding that CCS not be used as an excuse for building new
coal-fired power plants.

For further information, please contact:

Jane Kochersperger, Media Officer, Greenpeace USA. Tel: + 1 202
680 3798

Andrew Kerr, Communication Project Manager, Greenpeace
International. Tel: +31 6 4616 2020

Notes: The following materials are available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/CCSreport

1. “False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won’t Save the Climate,” Greenpeace International. May 2008.

2. The Executive Summary of the report.

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