Michigan-Based Energy Co. Funds Carbon Capture Research in California, Raises Suspicions

Michigan-Based Energy Co. Funds Carbon Capture Research in California, Raises Suspicions

While California has made significant progress in leading the nation in crafting an ambitious net-zero agenda, there’s still uncertainty about how the state will accomplish all of its plans. The Los Angeles Times reports that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has proposed a strategy to slash emissions that involves storing carbon underground, a controversial topic among climate activists. The nonpartisan, technology-neutral International Energy Association (IEA) says that successful carbon capture is a requisite part of the world getting to net zero. But today, many forms of carbon capture remain unproven technologies that some worry can be an excuse to continue burning fossil fuels for years to come.

Another key point is that CARB used biased data to create the strategy when it relied on modeling from a source with much to gain from the promotion of carbon capture. The research was funded in part by a Michigan-based energy company that stands to benefit from California’s adoption of carbon capture technology. Michigan Energy Promise “has strong ties” to the Detroit-based utility DTE Energy, which just so happens to own several biomass plants in California that generate energy from burning “woody waste.” By installing carbon capture equipment, DTE could skirt emissions regulations and continue to profit.

WSJ: More Money Is Flowing Into Green Energy Than Ever Before. Here’s Why., January 6, 2021.

Why This Matters

California has made enormous strides when it comes to clean energy. The state set a goal to have 100% of its energy needs met by renewables by 2045. It is well on its way to meeting this goal. In August of last year, the California Energy Commission required new buildings to have solar power and battery storage facilities. And earlier this year, for just a short while, expansions in the solar and wind sector allowed the state to be powered entirely by renewables for the first time, breaking records.

But there are still roadblocks to California’s clean energy transition. Earlier this year, utility companies launched a bad-faith PR campaign against solar power, falsely advertising that middle-class consumers will have to pay for solar power in mansions. While DTE’s carbon capture research isn’t necessarily disingenuous, it’s still important to understand any potential conflicts of interest influencing climate policy.

CBS 8 San Diego: California ahead of clean energy goals, March 12, 2022.

A Promising Innovation Or Dangerous Gamble?

Those in support of carbon capture contend that these projects could help avert the worst effects of global warming, especially given that atmospheric carbon levels have hit record highs. Carbon capture has particular benefits for biomass plants like the ones run by DTE because the burning of woody material puts carbon into the atmosphere. If that carbon was instead stored underground, the process could be considered "carbon negative.” DTE also maintains that the underground rock formations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are perfect places to store carbon.

On the flip side, the drawbacks of this technology could be deadly. A focus on carbon capture can obscure the focus on reducing emissions and the adverse health impacts of air pollution, even as states veer away from burning fossil fuels.

CBC News: Huge carbon emissions cuts needed, UN climate report finds, April 4, 2022.

FT: Carbon capture | The hopes, challenges and controversies, April 6, 2022.