Coal & the Question of Carbon Capture & Storage

A member of the Policy Team yesterday attended a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee to discuss the vexed question of coal-fired energy generation and ‘Carbon Capture & Storage’ (CCS).

The Conservative Shadow Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, gave a very interesting presentation summarising his views and the priorities of any future Conservative Government. He stated that the market can no longer genuinely deliver a satisfactory energy system by itself, and that the Government needs to get more involved and establish a national energy policy. He then proceeded to argue that diversity of supply was essential to ensure energy security, and that therefore the UK needs to keep burning coal, and thus needs to introduce CCS.

Mr. Hendry recognised that this would require significant Government leadership and funding, for whilst the price of one large coal plant is approximately ₤700 million, including CCS would add a further ₤1 billion to the cost. Clusters of CCS-utilising power plants should therefore be created to attain as many economies of scale as possible, with one prime cluster candidate being in the South-East, on the Thames estuary.

To ensure that carbon reduction did occur, the Shadow Minister stated he was very interested in adopting an emissions performance standard along the lines of California, where any new power plant cannot be built unless its projected carbon emissions are under a certain set level. He also said he was considering the introduction of a minimum carbon price, in the form of a carbon tax, which could remedy the volatility and uncertain outlook of the current EU carbon price.

He was followed by Andy Read, the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project Manager at Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, who argued that CCS would definitely work, and that it is rather a question of economics, regulation and political uncertainty which will dictate how soon and where it is implemented. E.ON UK, the owners of Kingsnorth, are strongly pushing the creation of a CCS cluster in the South-East, with the carbon to be transported via under-sea pipeline to an old oil and gas field in the North Sea. The Q & A session did pick out one interesting point however, in that E.ON are committed to post-combustion removal of carbon technology, whilst many, including numerous chemical engineers in the audience, felt that pre-combustion carbon removal will be the real technology of the future. Charles Hendry stated that he recognised it was still unclear which exact technology will be most effective, but argued that the Government therefore had to support demonstration projects to ascertain which technologies would provide the best answer.