In a somber turn of events for the coal industry, an unreleased rule from President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is anticipated to push fossil fuel-fired power plants towards the implementation of carbon capture, a technology deemed expensive and difficult. As a result, many coal plants may be forced to shut down, according to industry experts.
Sources familiar with the matter claim that the rule will strictly limit power plant emissions, essentially requiring widespread deployment of carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants to remain compliant. The finalized proposal, expected to be issued for review soon, could lead to more premature coal retirements, warns Michelle Bloodworth, President and CEO of national coal advocacy group, America’s Power.
Bloodworth highlights the contradiction between the Biden Administration’s efforts to shut down coal plants and the agendas of countries like China, which are increasing their reliance on coal to support their economies. This divergence raises concerns over the need for more dependable electricity sources to accommodate the increasing demand for electric vehicles and an electrified economy.
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) processes are designed to capture carbon dioxide from power facilities and store it deep underground or transport it for commercial use. The EPA rule is not expected to explicitly mandate the use of carbon capture; however, strict emissions limits could act as a “de facto mandate” for fossil fuel-fired power plants to implement the technology.
Despite its potential to help cut up to 90% of all emissions from power plants, carbon capture technology has faced criticism from environmentalists for its high costs and for diverting funds from renewable energy sources. Nevertheless, some environmentalist groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Evergreen Action, have publicly supported the technology.
Kenny Stein, Director of Policy at the Institute for Energy Research, emphasizes that carbon capture remains extremely expensive and challenging to retrofit or include in new plants. He adds that no carbon capture project has managed to be profitable on its own terms. Although Stein admits that an innovation could change the cost-effectiveness of the technology, he believes such a development is many years away.
Furthermore, even if the technology were to become viable, it would likely result in higher costs for consumers, as the equipment necessary to capture carbon dioxide requires a significant amount of energy. Myron Ebell, Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, argues that carbon capture would only be economically viable if it were less expensive than competing wind and solar projects, which he expects will also be a higher-priced alternative to current energy sources.
The Biden administration has set a target of achieving a net-zero economy by 2050. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the president’s signature climate law, is projected to push between 30 to 60 gigawatts worth of coal-fired power offline by 2030. To support the transition to green energy sources, the White House recently announced $450 million in funding for green energy projects aimed at “historic coal and mining communities.”