Carbon capture call: Power station projects must be fast-tracked, say MPs

The UK energy industry has welcomed a new report from an influential Parliamentary committee which argues that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is now 'vital' to limiting climate change and the technology must be fast-tracked for use in UK power stations within the next 12 months.

The new report, released earlier today (21 May) from the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC), explains that CCS – which traps carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning and buries it – has become essential for the UK’s low-carbon ambitions and that investment decisions on two pilot CCS projects must be finalised before the next general election.

“Fitting power stations with technology to capture and store carbon is absolutely vital if we are to avoid dangerously destabilizing the climate,” said the ECC’s chairman Tim Yeo MP. “After nearly a decade of delay, Decc has finally got near to delivering two pilot carbon capture and storage projects in the UK. It must now fast-track these projects and reach final investment decisions before the election to ensure this technology can start delivering carbon savings by the 2020s.

“These two demonstration projects will not be enough to kick-start the industry or have a significant impact on our carbon budgets, however. Ministers must also ensure that viable CCS projects not involved in the competition are able to apply for guaranteed-price contracts alongside other low-carbon energy schemes.”

The report goes on to criticise the government’s £1bn ‘competition’ for the first CCS plants, which launched in 2007 and had to be restarted in 2011 after the last competitor withdrew. 

Fledging industry

“The competition the Government launched to award capital support to CCS has turned out to be a model example of how not to support a fledgling industry, taking successive governments the best part of 10 years to complete,” added Yeo.

CCS is a technology designed to silo CO2 released during industrial processes and store it underground. Fossil fuel power stations are most closely linked to the application of CCS but it could be used in any industry with high-carbon emissions.

The report argues that burning all existing fossil fuels as we do now, without capturing their emissions, will drive global warming well above the 2C threshold that scientists have highlighted as ‘a climactic point of no return’. But the UK is well-placed to become an international leader in CCS because of its access to the North Sea, where CO2 could be buried in exhausted oil and gas fields, it says.

It goes on to state that the Government must reach final investment decisions with the two projects left in its competition – at Peterhead in Scotland and Drax in Yorkshirr – by 2015 and commit to a timeline for awarding guaranteed price contracts to projects outside its CCS commercialisation competition.

Responding to the report, Energy Minister Michael Fallon said: “The UK is ahead of the rest of Europe with two CCS projects actively undertaking detailed engineering studies ahead of full construction.” 

“It’s important we take the time to get our decisions right and follow a robust process.”

CCS report: Industry reaction

Environmental charity WWF-UK goes a step further, claiming CCS is now an ‘urgent priority’ but warning that the Government should not invest significantly in new fossil fuel plants on the assumption that CCS technology would be available in future to mitigate the impact of climate change.

“After years of unnecessary delay, getting on with the task of demonstrating the technical and commercial feasibility of CCS is an urgent priority for this Government and the next,” said WWF-UK’s head of climate and energy policy Nick Molho.

“But the Government shouldn’t plan significant investments in new fossil fuel plants today on the assumption that CCS technology will be available at an affordable cost in the future to capture emissions when we simply don’t know that yet.”

The Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) recommends that the Government should ‘commit to a realistic but ambitious timeline for awarding support to projects both inside and outside its CCS commercialisation competition’.

The CCSA’s chief executive Luke Warren said: “The ECC Committee’s report on CCS and its recommendations is extremely timely – and we very much share their concerns and frustrations on the substantial delay to the development of CCS in the UK.

“We strongly support the recommendations of the Committee, particularly in relation to the need for speed on projects both within and outside of the CCS competition.”

Research from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) found that the costs of meeting the UK’s low-carbon targets could double to £60bn a year by 2050 at today’s prices without the use of CCS.

“Our research mirrors and supports much of the ECC’s report whose publication we welcome today,” said the ETI’s programme manager for CCS, Andrew Green. “Current work is consistently showing the scale of benefits that CCS could deliver to the UK and a clear roadmap is needed for the industry to develop and prosper.

“Working from a robust evidence base, we hope that a clear policy framework can help to make the investment proposition for CCS attractive and begin to develop a momentum in this emerging industry, given the value it has the potential to deliver.”

Carbon Capture and Storage: Full report

Luke Nicholls


Luke Nicholls

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