Call for future fossil fuel power plants to be equipped with CCS

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On January 23rd, the Commission published a series of proposals to enable the EU to reach its climate change mitigation targets for 2020. The proposals have been the topic of much debate during this week’s EU Sustainable Energy Week, and the CCS proposals were centre-stage on January 30th.

“CCS is a noisy ghost covering up conventional coal-fired power plants,” Claude Turmes, a prominent green member of the European Parliament, said and pointed out that current plans for building conventional coal-fired power plants by far dwarfed plans for coal-fired CCS power plants in Europe.

Public support for CCS required
This prompted Bellona Europa’s panellist in the debate, Paal Frisvold, to stress the urgency of building full-scale CCS demonstration plants, in order to prevent the build-up of new conventional fossil fuel power plants across Europe. He said that a level of public support is necessary to do this.

“We need to urgently get the smaller CCS pilot projects currently underway up to full-scale demonstration plants. The question is: Will the future price of CO2 emissions in the EU emission trading system – ETS – be sufficient to make CCS commercially interesting by 2015? We doubt it. It is promising that the Commission in its proposal for a new ETS directive suggests to earmark 20 percent of auction revenues from future sales of ETS allowances to climate change measures, such as CCS. This could be a way to finance the demonstration plants. But these revenue streams will only start in 2013, which may not be soon enough. In order to make full-scale CCS a reality by 2015, companies need to make investment decisions very soon, so we need to urgently identify other revenue sources,” he said.

Frisvold added that some level of EU, as opposed to Member State-only, funding would be needed in order to ensure a coherent and complementary set of demonstration plants.

EU funding would also make it easier to finance projects not only in Europe but also in emerging economies.

“It is in countries like China, India and South Africa that CCS is needed. In Europe we can reduce our emissions through energy efficiency and renewables,” Mr. Turmes said.

Mandatory emission ceilings for power plants

The head of the WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature’s European climate team, Stephan Singer, said there was no way around CCS as an important “wedge” to reduce CO2 – and ultimately “suck CO2 out of the atmosphere” by burning biomass in CCS power plants. He was disappointed that the Commission’s proposals would not make CCS mandatory.

“We need a moratorium on building new power plants where retro-fitting CCS is not foreseen,” he said.

He further argued that a mandatory ceiling for CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour should be set, as California has done. This ceiling should be based on best available technology for fossil fuel power plants – which could be 350 grams CO2 per kilowatt hour as is currently achieved by so-called combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) when used with combined heat and power (CHP) technology.

“Such emissions standards should be applicable to all new power plants from 2015 and all existing plants from 2020,” he argued.