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EU Parliament gives strong backing to carbon capture

MEPs back plans to boost funding for technology that could radically cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions

(Pic: Bigstock)

(Pic: Bigstock)

By John McGarrity

Carbon capture and storage needs the same level of financial support as that given to renewables if the world’s largest emitters are to keep the lights on but at the same time slash levels of greenhouse gases, members of the European Parliament agreed today.

MEPs gave overwhelming support to a motion by Chris Davies, a UK member of the European Parliament, that  member states need to provide billions of euros in subsidies to carbon capture equivalent to that given to renewables such as wind and solar.

“The only way the EU is going to meet a target to cut emissions 80% by 2050 is by deploying carbon capture and storage, and we’ll need governments to give it much more funding, not the scraps from the bottom of the barrel that has been the case so far,” Davies told RTCC.

Weak prices in the EU’s emissions trading scheme – currently just below 5 euros – have been far low to provide a financial incentive to utilities and heavy industry to invest in technology that traps climate-changing gases and buries them deep underground.

Energy companies say they would need a carbon price of at least $50 (37 euros) before the technology would be economically viable in the early stages.

Low carbon prices have also shrank the proceeds from carbon auctions that can be deployed to fund pilot projects for CCS, while some utilities have scrapped plans to invest in the technology, citing big upfront costs and insufficient government subsidy.

“Besides power generation, we need to convince heavy industries such as cement to deploy carbon capture, but they are never going to do it on their own. No one wants to be a loss-leader,” Davies said.

MEPs voted 521 to 141 in favour of Davies’ motion, a week before the European Commission unveils a package of policies aimed at further reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

‘High importance’

The EU’s executive is widely expected to approve a target where the 28-nation bloc would have to cut its emissions 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels, but doubts are growing that policymakers  will back a binding target for renewables.

“The challenge now is to ensure that CCS is included as part of the EU’s 2030 plans, and that effective policies are put in place to support its widespread deployment.,” said Chris Littlecott of the Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage research group.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said yesterday that the EU executive had given “high importance” to an EU-wide regulatory framework for CCS, saying this is the only way to ensure public confidence in the technology.

An omission of a requirement that countries need to use a certain amount of energy from wind, solar, hydro, biofuels and other renewables sources could make it easier for CCS to gain a foothold, say specialists in climate policy.

Countries such as the UK support a greenhouse reduction of at least 40% by the end of the next decade, but want flexibility on how such targets should be met, such as the use of nuclear and carbon capture.

Climate scientists told UN climate talks last year that carbon capture is the only way the world can limit rises in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius and at the same time use coal.

VIDEO: Global CCS chief Brad Page on technology’s potential

Coal is expected to overtake oil as the world’s dominant energy source by 2020 and is fuelling the growth in power generation in developing countries, meaning use of the fuel looks likely to be locked in for decades

Supporters of CCS say that the roll-out of pilot schemes in Europe will help drive down the costs of the technology, making it easier to introduce in developing countries.

The IEA has said hundreds of CCS projects will be needed by the end of the next decade, and thousands by mid-century, if the world is to cut emissions in order to prevent runaway climate change.

Critics of capturing carbon say the process is unproven on a large scale, but advocates point to new projects  – such as Canada’s Boundary Dam – coming online this year which will demonstrate that emissions from big coal-fired power stations can be buried underground.

If carbon capture is realised on a large scale, the process could end being cheaper than nuclear or offshore wind, Davies said.

Environmental lobbies say collecting CO2 and storing it is a convenient ploy by the coal industry to avoid significant curbs on fossil fuels.

REPORT: Coal industry must face ‘climate reality’ says UN chief

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