How Are Large Scale DAC Developments Driving Community Benefits And Engagement?

How Are Large Scale DAC Developments Driving Community Benefits And Engagement? - Carbon Herald
Source: Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations

As the direct air capture (DAC) industry exists to ensure historic emission reductions, it is also a catalyst for innovation and societal progress. Another merit of large-scale DAC deployments is the opportunity of placing the community in the center of how the projects are built and organized. 

Building a strategy for community engagement is a key requirement for the funding opportunities of large scale DAC infrastructures spurred by U.S. President Joe Biden. The government’s efforts to accelerate climate change mitigation, and with this the deployment of carbon removal, are intertwined with other core policy priorities such as advancing diversity and equity, inclusion of disadvantaged communities as recipients of benefits and financial opportunities, as well as creating high quality jobs and safeguarding public health.

As part of Biden’s key policies addressing climate change – the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – the government issued a requirement that all applications for funding opportunities and loans from these two policies need to be accompanied by Community Benefits Plans. When an applicant is selected, its Community Benefits Plan becomes part of the contractual obligation of the funding recipient.

The Community Benefits Plans are based on a set of four core policy priorities: 

  • They need to engage communities and labor;
  • They have to invest in America’s workers through quality jobs;
  • They need to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility through recruitment and training; and
  • They have to implement Justice40, which directs 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to flow to disadvantaged communities.

Government funding opportunities supporting DAC projects will also need to follow these core priorities. Large-scale DAC deployments adhering to these key principles aim to ensure broadly shared prosperity in the clean energy transition in the country and community engagement. 

Relevant: DOE To Invest $3.5 Billion In Carbon Removal

Back in May 2022, The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program, a $3.5 billion funding opportunity to support four large-scale direct air capture hubs with the goal of addressing climate change, create high quality jobs, prioritize community engagement and environmental justice.

One of the selected DAC hubs – Project Cypress – aims to remove 1 million tons of excess carbon dioxide from the air every year by 2030. So far, the U.S. government has awarded Project Cypress more than $50 million to begin the initial phase of construction, with the project being eligible for up to $600 million in matched federal investment. 

Credit: Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations

According to publicly available information, the project has prepared extensive planning on how it will engage community and labor stakeholders during its initial planning and development phase.

How will Project Cypress engage the community?

Some of the commitments planned by the project developers are: 

  • Project Cypress will create a Community Engagement Council (CEC);
  • There will be development of negotiated workforce and community agreements between community reps and project developers;
  • Project Cypress will identify potential project impacts and all identified impacts (both benefits and negative impacts) will be discussed with CEC, quantified and characterized, including the total magnitude and geographical context with respect to disadvantaged communities. This will be addressed with a plan to maximize benefits to these communities and avoid, minimize, mitigate, or eliminate negative impacts;
  • Project Cypress will create a publicly available platform that regularly shares project data and information;
  • The project will initiate and implement critical partnerships to support and train a well-qualified workforce and to advance equity, civil rights, and equal social and economic opportunity, including access to jobs.

The Community Engagement Council initiative aims to invite local residents from disadvantaged communities and local workforce labor organizations to join in and assist the project team in thinking about the types of co-benefits from the project, as well as any potential harms and addressing them.

As the large-scale direct air capture developments are still in early stages of deployment, the groundwork for how the benefits and potential risks are going to be determined is still being layed out.

Relevant: Project Cypress Receives $50M From DOE In First Tranche For The DAC Hub Development

To gain further clarity on what the commitments from large-scale DAC hubs are regarding community engagement and benefits and how the DOE is going to evaluate them, we talked to Carbon180 – a climate NGO focusing on carbon removal policies, making sure they are just, equitable, and highly accountable. Talking about how planned DAC hubs like Project Cypress are beneficial for the local community, Ugbaad Kosar, Carbon180’s Director of Environmental Justice shared: 

“To be frank with you, that’s to be determined. They are at the very early stages of figuring out how exactly the projects are going to be beneficial. I think the goal of the DOE is to assess them using the Community Benefit Plan (CBP) which is really trying to answer what are the other benefits that the projects are able to bring specifically to the community members in addition to helping our climate. A requirement for each project to receive funding is to be able to outline this.”

Kosar also shed some light on the specific commitments or milestone that DAC hubs are required to meet as part of the government funding opportunity. “That information hasn’t actually been made public. And that is what we are pushing for… One thing I really want to emphasize is that the whole phase of DAC hubs was one funding opportunity announcement. There will be subsequent funding announcements from the DOE to solicit even more and newer applications. One intervention point that we are thinking about is how do we ensure that those future funding opportunities have more robust transparency requirements of the negotiation process, and then through the awarding process.”

She also highlighted the excitement behind large-scale DAC developments, fostering community engagement: “this is the first time the DOE is requiring Community Benefit Plans to be tied to such large amounts of funding. The idea of just having to think about communities before you actually start a project is incredibly important and a huge paradigm shift for the federal government and for project developers.”

Depending on how the DAC hubs perform, they will have the power to create a significant impact on the whole carbon removal field. “I’m cautiously optimistic about what’s happening so far. I think there’s room to always push on transparency so that everybody in the public is able to follow along and create their own stance on what direct air capture really is,” concludes Ms Kosar.

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