A government watchdog, the US Government Accountability Office, has concluded the US Department of Energy (DOE) needs better oversight of public funding for carbon capture projects and their management.
Over the past decade, the DOE has invested some $1.1 billion in a total of 11 demonstration projects in order to showcase the potential for CO2 emissions to be captured from coal-fired plants and other industrial facilities and stored underground or used for other purposes.
Initially, the Department of Energy committed to 8 coal plants, most of which were new and were to be equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
However, 7 of these 8 plants were never built as a result of factors that rendered coal power more expensive than other alternatives.
In addition, due to senior management direction to bypass certain cost controls so as to aid several coal projects, DOE spent nearly $300 million more than initially planned on 4 projects that were never constructed.
Hence, DOE’s total funding of $648 million resulted in only a single operational coal facility.
The success rate of the industrial projects overseen by DOE was better. Namely, $438 million were allocated to fund three such projects, two of which were built and entered into operation.
The third project was withdrawn.
As a result of its review, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also concluded that part of the failed investments was due to DOE’s process for selecting coal projects and negotiating their respective funding agreements.
Instead of allowing more time for further review of the above coal projects, DOE made use of expedited time frames and fully committed to the demonstration projects.
Bypassing cost controls at the direction of senior leadership was also among the reasons named by GAO as to why public funds were unnecessarily spent.
GAO’s findings have led the watchdog to urge Congress to introduce a mechanism for better oversight and accountability of how DOE goes about funding carbon capture projects.