CLIMATEWIRE | It has been seven years since the EPA finalized a rule requiring new coal-fired power plants to capture and store some of their carbon emissions. Despite the lawsuits and the proposed repeal by the Trump administration, it is still in force.

The EPA is now preparing to ask newly built natural gas generators to do more to limit their own emissions. Environmentalists hope the new rule, expected later this year, will also rely on aggressive technology such as carbon capture, use and storage or CCUS to ensure a deep reduction in climate pollution.

There are currently no gas generators that use this technology. A rough white paper that the EPA published last month and is now subjecting public comments on setting out technical options for reducing CO2 in new gas-fired power plants. His CCUS section cites a combined cycle gas power plant in Massachusetts that captures up to 95 percent of its CO2 for use in carbonated beverages – until it closes in 2005. The CCUS power plant is expected to be online in Scotland in 2026.

Proponents of the industry, including some who support the development of CCUS for gas installations, suggest that the EPA will fight to show that the technology is ready to be the basis of a rule.

Jeff Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell LLC, said the EPA may have released a white paper to signal to the industry that it will eventually promulgate a rule requiring steeper carbon cuts through technology such as CCUS, which is currently in use. the focus of research and development of the energy department. DOE received more than $ 2.5 billion for a CCUS demonstration program in the Infrastructure Act last year. The costs will support at least two pilot projects in natural gas generators.

“Speaking of CCS and hydrogen, they show that they are thinking about the long-term question of what we will eventually do with the gas installations that will be needed to maintain reliability for many years,” said Holmsted, head of the EPA Air Force. President George W. Bush. “But I wouldn’t read that as saying that CCS or hydrogen is really on the table for the rulemaking they have to do next year.”

Holmested said the document clearly shows that these technologies have not yet been adequately demonstrated.

Environmental advocates say the Clean Air Act is designed to encourage the introduction of cutting-edge technologies that have the potential to significantly reduce harmful pollution. The EPA White Paper cites decades of CCS and CCUS projects applied to coal, natural gas processing and other facilities.

“All the EPA needs to do is demonstrate that it can be transferred and scaled for the gas fleet, and there are no technical barriers to that,” said Jay Duffy, a lawyer with the Clean Air Task Force. “I think many times opponents of CCS and advanced pollution control are trying to move the bar and say technology is not being demonstrated unless it’s on every street corner. But the Clean Air Act does not provide for this. He is looking to the future. It’s technologically compelling. “

The EPA White Paper sets out a range of technologies that could reduce carbon emissions from gas-fired power plants, from heat power improvements to hybrid plants that burn hydrogen or renewable gas to CCUS.

A proposal is expected later this year with a final rule in 2023. Unlike the EPA’s draft rule for existing power plants – also expected this year – the new source standard triggers compliance requirements for a proposal.

It is unclear whether the EPA plans to simultaneously update the standard for new coal-fired energy. In court documents, the agency said it was still assessing its capabilities.

The Obama EPA has left the current administration ample room for tougher measures on gas-fired power plants.

The same 2015 regulation, which imposes a partial CCUS on coal-fired power plants, sets a carbon limit for new gas-fired power plants of £ 1,000 per megawatt-hour – a standard that is lower than normal business in most modern gas-fired power plants. The effectiveness measures that the EPA examined in its draft White Paper would support a 20 or 30 percent tightening of this standard.

But the Greens say it would be a sad contribution to President Joe Biden’s promise to make the U.S. grid 80 percent carbon-free by the end of this decade – and 100 percent clean by 2035.

“Once you build something, it tends to last,” said Mike O’Boyle, director of electrical policy at Energy Innovation.

A standard based on efficiency improvements could be significantly stricter on gas than the Obama-era rule, he said, but if it paves the way for gas to remain a large part of U.S. production for decades to come, it could undermine net zero goals.

That could also leave taxpayers on the hook to pay for blocked assets in the coming years, he said.

“This is less of a problem in competitive markets, where the risk of new construction is on the natural gas plant, and if there are cheaper alternatives, the company that built the plant bears the risk of early retirement,” O’Boyle said.

But more than half of U.S. taxpayers live in markets served by utility monopolies, where an energy company can recover the price of an asset that is obsolete by passing that cost on to consumers.

If the EPA bases its rule on CCUS, that doesn’t mean utilities have to use technology to meet the standard of performance. They could choose something else that allows them to keep emissions within the limits set by the rule.

O’Boyle said energy regulators should in practice have a stricter standard for the technologies they approve than the EPA, because they should be concerned about protecting customers from subsidizing blocked assets in the future.

CCUS gas is not competitive with renewable energy, he argued.

“Just because the EPA decides that certain abatement technologies are commercially viable does not mean that we will or should necessarily use more of these technologies in the real world,” O’Boyle said.

The new source’s efficiency standard and related rule for existing power plants will be affected by next month’s Supreme Court ruling challenging the Obama-era clean energy plan. This also comes as a major climate spending bill remains stagnant in Congress, which will make huge investments in clean energy.

Harvard University’s Carrie Jenks, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program, said that didn’t mean the EPA rule had to meet all of Biden’s climate commitments on its own.

“I think there is no doubt that if Congress acts on a comprehensive policy, it gives more certainty about where we are going. But I don’t think the trajectory of the energy sector is entirely based on EPA Rule 111, “she said, referring to the section of the Clean Air Act where the rule is written.

“We see that this sector is already in transition,” she added. “Technology is advancing. So I don’t think we need to hang our hat on just one component of the administration’s plan.

Reprinted from E&E news courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-the-epa-might-make-new-gas-plants-catch-carbon/

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