Only in Alberta could the government of the day put a call out for the world’s CO2 emissions.
Yet that was distinctly the message Energy Minister Brian Jean issued this week, as the government announced it was going all in on carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) technology as not only a means of reducing the province’s own emissions, but as an opportunity to store “100 per cent” of the world’s greenhouse gas discharges.
Give us your tired, your poor, your planet-polluting releases …
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced on Tuesday that her United Conservative Party government would give up to 12 per cent in grants on the eligible costs for future CCUS projects, at a cost of up to $5-billion depending on the number of projects. She said these incentives would help fuel $35-billion in new investment. Mr. Jean said that the province has a unique geology, one that allows it to safely warehouse all of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
I’m not sure being the world’s CO2 landfill is something you’d want screaming out of your tourism brochures.
If nothing else, the announcement confirmed that the province is placing a huge bet on CCUS to solve its intractable emissions problem, more so than renewable energy. This, despite the skepticism that abounds about CCUS technology and its ability to solve the world’s emissions crisis.
Last month, the International Energy Agency issued a report saying the world’s oil and gas industry needed to let go of the “illusion” CCUS technology was the answer to climate change. In its study, the IEA estimated CCUS technology would have to capture 32 billion tons of carbon by 2050 – with current oil and gas consumption remaining on the trajectory it is for the coming decades – to limit world temperature change to 1.5 degrees C. It also said the technology would require 26,000 terawatt hours of electricity to operate in 2050, more than total global demand in 2022. Also, it would require US$3.5-trillion in annual investment from now to the middle of this century, which is equivalent to the entire oil and gas industry’s annual revenue in recent years.
Details, details …
For what it’s worth, Ms. Smith doesn’t trust the IEA. In October, the Premier said the institution was “no longer credible” after issuing a report in which it predicted that renewables were likely to generate half of the world’s electricity by 2030.
Look, the point here isn’t to completely dismiss the Alberta government’s warm embrace of carbon capture as the answer to its emissions dilemma. While many believe CCUS is simply a way for the oil and gas industry to continue burning fossil fuels, if most of those emissions can in fact be captured and safely stored, then aren’t we further ahead?
The question is: how credible is CCUS as a full-scale, emissions-fighting option? It remains wildly expensive to implement. And it seems inconceivable that governments or industry are going to build CCUS operations throughout the world at all the various oil and gas sites that are out there.
The oil sands, on the other hand, are not all spread out. They are centrally located in a relatively small space. It is possible to put CCUS plants in there, after which there is loads of open area for sequestering the carbon. So, in theory at least, it is doable.
And CCUS operations are becoming more technically sound. The Boundary Dam coal plant CCUS system in Saskatchewan was a dismal failure when it first started out, failing to capture much carbon at all (at a tremendous cost). Today, it is capturing as much as 70 per cent of the carbon emitted at the plant (it has the capacity to capture as much as 90 per cent, but intermittent mechanical issues have prevented operators from meeting that goal regularly). Carbon capture technology is also increasingly viewed as appropriate for natural gas systems, which was seen as a CCUS weakness before. It’s being used successfully at the Bellingham natural gas power plant in Massachusetts, for instance.
There is a role for CCUS in the world’s battle against rising emissions, no question. But it is not the answer, in and of itself. We still need to scale up renewable energy in a massive way. It is still the way of the future, and the fact that Alberta seems indifferent to its undeniable potential is deeply lamentable.
Equally as sad is that Ms. Smith seems dead set against co-operating at all with Ottawa in establishing an emissions plan that works for both sides. One that could and should include CCUS but would also incorporate other measures, including wind and solar.
But these are the times in which we live. The world burns while our politicians fiddle.