Monthly Archives: June 2012

The latest Coal news

World’s first CCS leak experiment completed in sea off Scotland

An investigation into the safety of carbon capture and storage has pumped four and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide into the sea

The world’s first experiment to investigate the impact of a breached storage tank of carbon dioxide on the marine ecosystem has been completed off the coast of Scotland. More than four and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide were pumped into the seabed to simulate a gas leak, as part of a wider investigation into the safety of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The experiment, led by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, began in May and is focused on assessing the safety of CCS . The technology captures carbon dioxide from power stations before it can be emitted into the atmosphere and then sequesters it under the ocean.

There are 15 CCS projects in various stages of development worldwide, but this has been the first attempt to simulate the conditions of a breach in the carbon storage tanks.

For the past 30 days, CO2 has been supplied from a “pop-up” lab and has travelled through a borehole under the sediment to the release site, 350 metres from the shore and 12 meters below the seabed of Ardmucknish Bay, near Oban.

Initial results have followed the expectations of researchers, with localised impacts that have affected some creatures, while others have so far been unaffected.

The experiment’s co-ordinator, Dr Henrik Stahl from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, said: “CO2 gas has been bubbling out of the sediments over the past few weeks and we have seen a clear but localised drop of the pH in the sediments and overlying water in the bubble zone, as expected.

“Some animals, such as sea-urchins living in the sediments, seem to react negatively to the increase in CO2 whereas others, such as crabs, seem to be attracted or unaffected by the bubbles; so there could be both winners and losers in a real-life situation.”

Although the gas injection has now been turned off, the site will continue to be monitored until at least September. The researchers believe that ongoing monitoring and analysis will prove essential in furthering our understanding of how leaked CO2 moves through sediment and how the marine ecosystems would respond in such an event.

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Plans for carbon-capture power station abandoned

Environmentalists welcome Ayrshire Power’s withdrawal of plans for coal-fired station at Hunterston due to financial concerns

Controversial plans to build a major coal-fired power station in Ayrshire using unproven “clean coal” technology have been abandoned, to the delight of environmental campaigners.

The developers, Ayrshire Power, blamed their unexpected decision to withdraw plans for a new 1852MW carbon-capture power station at Hunterston on the recession and anxieties about winning funding from the government and European commission.

Their announcement, just days after the dates for a public inquiry into the project were agreed by a Scottish planning inspector, is another blow to the UK and Scottish government’s attempts to promote carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a centrepiece of their efforts to combat climate change.

Several major pilot projects, including a £1bn scheme to retrofit CCS at Longannet power station in Fife, have been cancelled in the last few years because of doubts over their financial and technical viability. Some are still under consideration for EU and government funding, including one recent proposal to build a CCS project at Peterhead by the energy firms SSE and Shell.

In 2009, the Danish power giant Dong Energy announced it was pulling out of the £3bn Hunterston proposal, leaving its main backer, the Manchester-based property firm Peel Holdings, to run the scheme without a power company as a partner in the consortium.

The Ayrshire Power project, which had yet to get approval, had the reputation of being the most controversial proposal in Scottish planning history. Despite initially backing the proposal, Alex Salmond, the first minister, and his devolved government distanced themselves from the scheme.

More than 22,000 objections were sent to the Scottish government after environmental campaigners, residents and major civic organisations, such as the Church of Scotland and Oxfam, mounted a vigorous campaign of opposition.

Richard Dixon, the director of WWF Scotland, said Ayrshire Power’s plans to use experimental “clean coal” technology on only part of its output at first, for about 22% of its emissions, were unacceptable, and would put Scotland’s efforts to cut CO2 emissions by 42% in a decade under severe strain.

“With the local community and North Ayrshire council against it, 22,000 objections and no chance of winning the public inquiry, walking away was the only sensible option,” Dixon said.

“This was always the wrong application in the wrong place. Scotland has huge renewable energy resources and several promising sites to try out carbon capture. The last thing we need is a new coal-fired power station hiding behind a green figleaf. Let’s hope this proposal never sees the light of day again.”

Aedán Smith, head of planning at RSPB Scotland, said: “This is absolutely fantastic news. This unnecessary and hugely unpopular proposal would have completely destroyed part of a nationally important wildlife site and seriously undermined Scotland’s ambitions to be a world leader on climate change.

“Although it is disappointing that any developer would even consider such a damaging proposal, we are pleased that Peel have finally recognised the absurdity of these plans and made a sound decision that will save everybody the further time and expense of fighting them.”

In a statement issued late on Tuesday afternoon, Ayrshire Power said it had withdrawn its planning application, effectively cancelling the public inquiry. The firm said it could resubmit its plans in the future. It claimed the scheme could have stored 1bn tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

Muir Miller, Ayrshire Power’s project director, said: “Whilst we believe we have a strong case to succeed in the planning inquiry, we cannot proceed with the significant risk that the current power station design and fuel mix could not be funded and built in the necessary timetable following the grant of consent.

“We still believe that new coal-fired power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage will play an important part in plugging the energy gap until alternative sources of low-carbon energy can replace fossil fuels.

“Hunterston remains an ideal location for such a power station. However, the timing of the economic slowdown and funding uncertainty have not worked in our favour. We will now take some time to consider our options and determine under what circumstances we will revisit our proposals.”

The Scottish government appeared to be unperturbed by the announcement. Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, said it was a commercial decision and there were other schemes still in contention for the UK government’s £1bn in funding for CCS.

“The Scottish government strongly supports CCS as a critical new technology to transform the way we generate power, help reduce carbon emissions and ensure security of supply,” he said.

“Scotland also remains well-placed to take a lead in the development and commercialisation of CCS. With more than half of Europe’s identified offshore CO2 storage capacity, the central North Sea off the coast of Scotland is the natural choice for enabling CCS.”

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Energy bill must vow to ‘decarbonise’ sector or face losing investment

Tim Yeo says government must put limit on gas-fired plant use, in order to secure required £200bn investment into energy sector

The government must set a clear “twilight” on gas-fired power generation in its forthcoming energy bill, or face a dearth of much-needed investment into the power sector, according to a top Tory MP.

Tim Yeo, the chairman of the influential energy and climate change select committee, said the bill should provide “confidence, certainty and long-term stability”, and that this could only be done through setting a clear target for “decarbonising” the electricity sector. Without such a framework, he warned, the required investment in the energy sector – estimated at more than £200bn in the next ten years – would be doubtful.

Providing a clear end to the use of “unabated” gas – that is, gas-fired electricity generation operating without the technology to capture and store the resulting carbon emissions – would ensure a clear limit on how long gas-fired power stations would continue to spew out carbon dioxide at their current rate, Yeo said. This issue is key to whether gas-fired power generation can have a long-term future in the UK, because energy utilities are being encouraged by the government to build new gas-fired power stations today, without a long-term view as to their future.

Yeo said that the government should come clean on its view of the future of gas-fired power. Plants built today are likely to operate for at least 25 years, and under the current energy bill it is not clear whether they could continue “unabated” during that time, or whether they would need to be fitted with expensive capture and storage technology at a later date.

If a new fleet of plants were built in the next few years, and still operating in 25 years, it would be all but impossible to meet the UK’s long-term target of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, according to the committee. But if new plants are not built in the next few years, the government could face electricity shortages, because of the difficulty of building alternatives such as windfarms and nuclear reactors in time to meet the expected shortfall of electricity.

Yeo said: “Whether or not the government sets a clear carbon reduction target on the face of the energy bill will be a key test of the coalition’s commitment to tackle climate change.”

In the forthcoming bill, ministers are expected to set out a framework by which gas-fired power stations would be allowed to opearate throughout the next decade and potentially beyond, while new coal-fired power stations would be effectively banned.

This would be achieved by an “emissions performance standard” that would allow gas-fired generation – which has lower direct carbon emissions than coal when burnt for electricity – but would be too low for coal-fired power stations, unless emissions were captured and consigned to long-term underground storage.

But Yeo said that the government must be much more explicit about the constraints it wanted to put on energy generation. He said: “If we want energy companies to make multibillion pound investments in new nuclear, carbon capture and storage and offshore wind and wave power, then the energy bill needs to establish a framework that provides confidence, certainty and long-term stability.”

As a step towards such a framework, Yeo urged the government to follow the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the body set up under the Climate Change Act to advise ministers on how to meet the UK’s emissions targets. The CCC, which is due to give evidence on Tuesday to the energy and climate change committee on how the bill should work in favour of long-term climate targets, has previously recommended the electricity sector is set a target of cutting carbon emissions to 50g/KWh by 2030 – what the CCC has referred to as “the decarbonisation of the electricity sector by 2030″.

This would involve a phasing out of gas-fired power stations by 2030, or by fitting such plants with CCS technology to take their emissions effectively to zero by that date. Ministers have shied away from such a firm target, however, preferring to fudge the language of their aims by referring instead in the preamble to the proposed bill to “largely” decarbonising the electricity sector “in the 2030s”.

Renewable energy companies and green groups regard this weaker language as a serious watering down of the government’s commitments, and a move calculated to spur short-term investment in the gas industry, to the detriment of alternatives. Ministers have made clear that they want a sizeable construction programme of new gas-fired power stations in the UK over the next five years in order to make up for the ageing coal-fired and nuclear power stations that will be phased out – mainly because new gas-fired power stations are relatively cheap and easy to build.

However, green campaigners warn that new gas-fired power plants built today will still be spewing out carbon in 25 years time, perhaps much longer. That would put the UK well beyond its carbon-cutting commitments for 2020 and 2050.

Yeo, a former cabinet minister in the last Tory government, said: “If ministers choose to ignore the advice of their independent advisors [the CCC] and do not set a target to cut electricity sector emissions to 50g/KWh by 2030, then deeper – and more expensive – carbon cuts wills have to be found in other sectors, such as transport.”

He said the government should better recognise that investors need the reassurance of a long-term policy framework: “An unambiguous objective to clean up the electricity sector by 2030 would give energy companies the confidence to invest and innovate, and should be one of the cornerstones of electricity market reform.”

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