Carbon Capture Could Prop Up Coal Plant in North Dakota

Carbon Capture Could Prop Up Coal Plant in North Dakota

Almost every job in Underwood, North Dakota is tied to the Coal Creek Station power plant, which was slated to shut down next year -- until a company stepped in to buy the plant with promises to set it up with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The process collects carbon emissions from coal or gas power plants, then pumps them in a liquified form for storage underground.

Why This Matters

The promise of burning coal without emissions has been on the horizon for decades, but it remains very expensive and thus far has not been successful on a large scale. In North Dakota, it would mean investing a sizable amount of taxpayer money into the continuation of coal-powered energy instead of exploring alternatives. The idea is appealing because it sidesteps engaging with a bigger energy transformation, but "there are an almost endless list of lower-cost ways to get that much energy value with no carbon," energy consultant Karl Rábago told Inside Climate News.

Climate Activists Call For End of Carbon Capture Climate Policy

This past Wednesday, Republicans blocked and asked for more time to write the sweeping infrastructure bill, which currently includes billions in carbon capture funding. In the leadup to the vote, a coalition of more than 500 environmental and community groups sent an open letter to President Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders calling the technology "a dangerous distraction," further stating:

[C]arbon capture is not a climate solution. To the contrary, investing in carbon capture delays the needed transition away from fossil fuels and other combustible energy sources, and poses significant new environmental, health, and safety risks, particularly to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities already overburdened by industrial pollution, dispossession, and the impacts of climate change.

Transporting and storing carbon dioxide means building a new network of pipes underground, and communities where the technology is being proposed are already pollution-burdened.

CNBC: Money Is Pouring Into Carbon Capture Tech, But Challenges Remain, March 3, 2021.

On The Flip Side

Proponents of the technology have argued that it's useful not only for fossil fuel-powered plants but for heavy industries like steel that don’t currently have cleaner alternatives but are needed for a transition to a green economy. It’s one of the few climate policies with bipartisan support -- and the support of fossil fuel companies themselves.

Research to bring CCS technology to real-world applications is moving quickly, including solutions like storing CO2 in cement. Advocates of CCS also hope that this technology can help create jobs.

Union of Concerned Scientists: Everything to Know About Coal (in Under 3 Minutes), January 4, 2018.

Center for Strategic & International Studies: Charting a Path for Just Transitions, March 10, 2021

Third Way: What Climate Science Really Says About Carbon Capture, December 7, 2020.