Monday, December 13, 2010

Carbon Capture Takes Another Hit

The Obama administration’s pledge of $1 billion for construction of a major commercial scale power plant carbon capture project in Illinois, dubbed FutureGen 2.0, took another hit today with announcement of the economic failure of yet another in a series of European carbon capture projects subsidized by the European Commission. Illinois’ FutureGen 2.0 is a proposed a network of pipelines to deliver the sequestered carbon dioxide to a repository in Mattoon, where it would be stored underground, along with emissions from other plants in the region should the commercial scale carbon capture technology prove successful.

The 2.0 version of FutureGen is a scaled down version of an earlier, more ambitious project which began as planned construction of a ground up new 275 megawatt clean coal power generation facility in Mattoon, under the Bush administration. When the estimated $950 million price tag for the coal gasification facility more than doubled as construction estimates were finalized, FutureGen was revised to version 2.0 - revamping Ameren Corporation’s 200 megawatt Meredosia coal fired power facility with advanced combustion techniques, a new boiler, and an air separation unit to capture 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions.

The fourth hit in three months to carbon capture construction in the European Union came today with announcement of the financial failure and anticipated bankruptcy sale of Powerfuel plc’s proposed carbon capture facility at its 900 megawatt coal fired Hatfield power plant in South Yorkshire. Netherlands based accounting and consulting firm KPMG has been appointed administrator for the Powerfuel project. According to KPMG’s Richard Fleming, the Hatfield carbon capture development falls $1 billion short of capital investment needed, despite European Commission grants of $275 million in subsidies for the project.

Last October, Germany’s energy giant E.ON announced it was terminating development plans for carbon capture and sequestration on a commercial scale at its billion and a half megawatt coal fired power plant in Kingsnorth, U.K. That news was followed swiftly in November by announcement that both commercial backers bowed out of Finland’s carbon capture project at Meri Pori, and Royal Dutch Shell’s termination of plans for an underground carbon dioxide storage facility at Barendrecht.

Despite Powerfuel’s status as the only UK licensee for commercial scale carbon capture technology trials, and projections by UK’s Department on Energy and Climate Change that that carbon capture and sequestration is one of the cheapest forms of low carbon energy production, KPMG’s Fleming described the reasons for the financial failure of the Hatfield project: “Developing low-carbon energy generation requires a large amount of capital up front, and the CCS development falls $1 billion short of the investment needed to build the plant. … The substantial funding gap has not been addressed in the past 12 months, and accordingly the project has stalled.”

In light of this series of dramatic failures of carbon capture projects overseas, the silence from both Springfield and Washington about the prospects of completion for FutureGen 2.0 is deafening.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unemployment Benefit Extension Returns To Front Burner

In a deal struck between President Obama and Senate Republican leaders, legislation extending federal unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months, up to a total of 99 weeks, could be on the way to passage in both houses of Congress very soon. Trading the unemployment extension desired by Democrats for extension of Bush era tax cuts to even the wealthiest Americans for 2 years, Obama went against the grain of his own party politically. In his own defense, Obama said at a press conference yesterday “A long political fight carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy, and a bad deal for the American people.”

The compromise package, carrying a price tag of a $700 billion increase in the nation’s deficit, includes the tax cut extensions, unemployment benefit extensions, a 2% cut in FICA taxes withheld from paychecks of working Americans, reinstatement of a 35% estate tax on inheritances of more than $5 million from a single decedent and $10 million per couple, and extension of the college tuition tax credit due to expire December 31, 2010. Also, businesses making capital investments next year will be permitted to expense the entire amount, rather than amortizing it over the life of the asset. The tax savings in 2011 are expected to total $120 billion for wage earners, and $150 billion for businesses.

Defending the deal, which comes on the heels of dual Senate defeats for proposals to extend the Bush era tax cuts only to families earning less than $250,000 per year, and then only to those earning over $1 million per year, Obama said: “The number one priority is doing what is right for the American people.”

Republican “Green” Legislation

Sitting on President Obama’s oval office desk for the past 5 days is a piece of legislation described by House and Senate Republicans as “green” legislation to create cutting edge energy conservation technology jobs. Called the Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act, and designated HR 5112 in the House and S 3250 in the Senate, the bill is supposed to cut federal government energy costs and train the federal building maintenance work force in the use of high performance technologies for energy conservation in federal buildings.

About 97% of federal office buildings use private contractors to maintain and manage the facilities, and according to House co-sponsors Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Russ Carnahan (R-Mo.), the legislation should cut the $7 billion spent annually on heating, cooling, powering and lighting federal facilities. GSA expects every dollar spent on training under this legislation to return $3.95 annually in energy cost savings. Senator Susan Collins (R-Me.), cosponsor of S 3250, quotes GSA as complaining that contractors responsible for managing federal facilities “lack qualified, well-trained people” to manage more than 500,000 federal buildings, structures, associated infrastructure and other physical assets in the U. S. and around the world.

The legislation was presented to Obama December 3, and awaits his signature. Interesting that the Republican climate change deniers were the ones to sponsor this bill in both houses. The stimulus legislation they have been complaining about for nearly 2 years appropriated $5.5 billion to GSA for upgrading energy efficiency of federal facilities, and ever since, GSA has been complaining that lack of proper expertise among facility operating personnel was a major roadblock in reaching federal government energy reduction goals. Once the bill is signed into law, training for the operators of the numerous federal buildings in the Chicago area should kick into high gear.