The drawbacks of a technology that West Virginia’s members of Congress and some clean energy proponents have embraced as key to reducing carbon dioxide emissions far outweigh its benefits, a new Appalachia-focused report says.
The Ohio River Valley Institute, a Johnstown, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit think tank, released a report Thursday arguing that carbon capture, use and sequestration technology would heavily burden taxpayers and block renewable resource development.
The report contends that the technology used to gather and compress carbon from emission sources for reuse or underground storage so it will not reenter the atmosphere is a needlessly costly approach to removing emissions from the nation’s power system.
Researchers found that deploying carbon capture, use and storage technology at current costs and at the current share of electricity generated from coal and natural gas would increase the annual retail price of electricity 24.7%.
West Virginia would see an estimated 63% annual electricity bill hike — the country’s highest.
But Sean O’Leary, Ohio River Valley Institute senior researcher and lead author of the report, acknowledged Thursday that Congress has moved closer to subsidizing carbon capture, use and storage technology through federal tax dollars instead.
“[T]he costs would land on consumers one way or the other,” O’Leary said. “They almost certainly will never show up in electric bills. That’s because the market has already passed judgment on this and has demonstrated that it would be a stupid thing to do.”
Expensive and unproven at commercial scale, the technology is seen by some clean energy supporters as critical in the struggle to slow climate change.
Politicians representing constituencies like West Virginia, where coal still plays a major role in the economy and electric generation, have embraced developing carbon capture, use and storage technologies as a way to keep coal in the energy mix amid the country’s shift toward reducing emissions and the rise of renewable resource use.
“I think we can all see what the potential political appeal of it is,” O’Leary said.
The report released Thursday highlights bills, introduced by Democrats and Republicans alike, under consideration in Congress that would amend the federal tax code that covers carbon capture, use and sequestration to encourage more deployment of such technologies.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is lead sponsor of three of them, including a bill introduced in February, HR 1062, that would extend the date for projects to begin construction to claim a tax credit for carbon sequestration by 10 years and include a direct payment mechanism for the tax credit.
The International Energy Agency last year said carbon capture, use and storage technologies are the only group of technologies that contributes to reducing emissions in key sectors directly and to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to balance the emissions that are hardest to prevent.
The number of potential carbon capture, use and storage projects announced since a 2018 tax credit expansion for those technologies has grown to more than 30, according to a database maintained by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit that advocates for clean air measures.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in a joint statement Thursday, welcomed a $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation to the West Virginia University Research Corp. to support a team from WVU, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University in focusing on developing manufacturing processes to advance carbon capture and use.
O’Leary argued Thursday that public funding for carbon capture, use and storage research should be commensurate to what he sees as the economically plausible role for such technologies, which he views as limited to industries that are hard to decarbonize, like making steel and cement.
“There is actually a fairly vigorous debate going on about CCUS [carbon capture, use and storage] right now,” O’Leary said of academia’s approach toward the technologies.
But based on an analysis of federal Energy Information Administration data and past research about added costs of implementing carbon capture, use and storage in the power sector, Thursday’s report is clear about which side it comes down on.
“[T]he public and not the industry will eat the vast majority of the cost,” the report concludes.