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With Natural Gas Plentiful and Cheap, Carbon Capture Projects Stumble
Date:21 May 2012
A federal proposal to ban the construction of coal-fired power plants that release all of their carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would seem to smooth the way for carbon capture, a budding technology that traps the greenhouse gas for storage or other uses. But even as the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to open hearings on the proposed rule, unveiled in March, industry experts say the persistently low price of natural gas is threatening the viability of the nation’s carbon capture projects.
Natural gas is so cheap and plentiful that utilities have little incentive to build coal-fired plants with the capture technology. And the proposed rule exempts existing coal- and gas-fired plants. In the tiny universe of American carbon capture projects, the first casualty may be the Taylorville Energy Center, a project in the coal fields of Illinois. The plan was to cook coal into methane, capture the carbon dioxide released in the process, then burn the methane in a conventional natural gas-style power plant. But Taylorville’s backers, unable to persuade the state legislature to approve the project because of its estimated $3.5 billion price, are considering deferring the coal element and simply building the gas-burning plant for one-third the cost.