Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS) technologies, used for decades in industries that could produce revenue from the use of CO2 to offset the high costs, have more recently come to the forefront of clean energy policy as a way to reduce CO2 emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants. In 2013, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan that included a Presidential Memorandum directing the EPA to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for the power sector.  In response, the EPA has proposed requiring all new coal plants to trap some of their CO2 emissions.

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of man-made C02 emissions, and coal fueled approximately 37% of our domestic electricity production in 2012. Although new power plants may be designed to comply with the proposed EPA standards, implementing CCS technologies would lead to sharply higher costs.

On February 11, 2014, Energy Department official Julio Friedmann, deputy assistant secretary for clean coal, reported to the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee regarding the Department’s coal research and development activities, including CCS technologies. In connection with his report, Mr. Friedmann remarked that the first generation of CCS technologies would have an estimated captured cost of CO2 of between $70 to $90 per ton if installed at new plants, although a second generation of technologies coming online within a decade could drop the carbon capture costs to $40 to $50 per ton.  The overall impact on costs would depend on a number of factors, including the coal used, the CCS technology installed, and the size and type of power plant.

Such extra costs for coal-fired plants would likely price them out of the market in some regions. Many lawmakers and utility groups criticize requirements to install CCS technologies as not commercially viable, arguing that it would make it impossible to build a new coal power plant in the U.S.  Friedmann agreed that utilities likely would not invest in CCS technologies without a mandate under the Clean Air Act, but sees the government’s role as enabling the reduction of costs as they enter the market, not commercialization or the determination of economic viability.

The EPA will accept written comments on its proposed CO2 emission standards for new power plants until March 10, 2014.