The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is showing the direction of where it thinks decarbonization will be focused on. EPA is currently working on a new rule that would require carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies on newly built natural gas-fired generators in an effort to limit their emissions.
The agency released a draft white paper last month and is now taking public comment on laying out technical options for CO2 abatement at new gas power plants.
The goal of the new rule is to require steeper carbon cuts on fossil fuel projects. EPA’s white paper cites decades of carbon capture and storage and carbon capture utilization and storage projects applied to coal, natural gas-fired plants, and other facilities.
The paper also lays out other technologies that could bring down a gas plant’s carbon emissions like heat rate improvements, and hybrid plants that burn gas with hydrogen or renewable energy. The agency is aiming to promote the deployment of cutting-edge technologies that have the potential to deliver the significant reductions in the energy industry that are needed.
“By talking about CCS and hydrogen, they show that they’re thinking about the longer-term question of what ultimately are we going to do with gas plants that will be needed to maintain reliability for many years… But I wouldn’t read that as saying that CCS or hydrogen are really on the table for the rulemaking they have to do in the next year,” said Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air office under President George W. Bush.
According to Holmstead, the white paper also makes it clear that those technologies aren’t adequately demonstrated to work on a large-scale yet.
The EPA’s proposal is expected later this year with a final rule due in 2023. Another EPA draft rule for existing power plants is also expected this year.
Back in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency released a rule that requires coal-fired power plants to partially offset emissions via carbon capture and storage. Back then, the Trump administration proposed repeal of the rule.
The same mandate also sets a carbon limit for new gas plants of 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour. Now the agency could raise the scales and propose a 20 or 30% tightening of that standard. It could also go further by requiring carbon capture on newly built gas plants the same way it did with coal-fired plants in its 2015 rule.
According to Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy at Energy Innovation, who criticized enforcing carbon capture, if EPA bases its rule on it, utilities could choose to opt for something else that allows them to keep emissions at the limits set by the rule.
“Just because EPA decides that certain emissions reduction technologies are commercially feasible doesn’t mean that necessarily we will or should get more of those technologies deployed in the real world,” said Mr O’Boyle.
Carbon capture and storage is certainly viewed as a decarbonization path by some environmental and governmental organizations. However, they still need to be tested for efficiency in the real world before they could be required by law to be deployed on a large scale.
Some of the carbon capture projects that have been implemented by the energy industry have shown to reduce emissions below their initial targets. They are also still expensive which limits their widespread deployment on a large scale.