AEP Drops Carbon Storage Project On Lack Of Federal Carbon Limits – WSJ.com
July 15, 2011 1 Comment
By Cassandra Sweet Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
American Electric Power Co. (AEP) will stop work on a low-carbon coal-fired power plant as political support shrinks in the U.S. for regulating heat-trapping emissions linked to climate change.
The facility, which had been touted as a leading project to make the complex technology commercially viable, is the latest sign that the U.S. power industry is moving away from carbon dioxide emission-reduction technology. A lack of consensus in Washington over regulating carbon dioxide emissions, coupled with sluggish demand for power, has pressured AEP and other utilities to cut investment in so-called clean coal technology.
AEP Chairman and Chief Executive Michael G. Morris said the project to capture and store carbon emissions from an existing coal-fired plant in West Virginia doesn’t make economic sense while U.S. climate policy remains uncertain and the economy is weak.
West Virginia regulators had prohibited the company from passing on the project’s costs to utility customers until federal greenhouse-gas reduction rules are in place, further weakening the project, Morris said.
AEP designed the system to capture at least 90% of the carbon dioxide from a 235-megawatt piece of the company’s 1,300-MW Mountaineer coal plant in New Haven, W.Va.
The second part of the system would treat and compress about 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 from the plant per year, then inject the gas into rock formations about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) below the surface, where it would be permanently stored.
The company said it would terminate an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy, which had offered AEP $334 million to cover part of the costs of the carbon storage project. The project was to be completed in four phases and begin commercial operation in 2015.
A similar plant using different technology, proposed for Taylorville, Ill., by privately held power generator Tenaska, was scuttled in January after Illinois lawmakers defeated legislation that would have allowed the company to pass through the $3.5 billion cost of the project to utility customers. The Energy Department had offered the company up to $2.6 billion in loan guarantees and a $417 million tax credit to support construction of the plant.
Other low-carbon coal projects are moving ahead.
Southern Co.’s (SO) Mississippi Power utility is building a $2.4 billion, 580-megawatt low-emission coal-fired power plant in Kemper County, Miss. The plant, which was approved by state regulators, is designed to convert coal or lignite into a gas, which is then used to generate electricity, with lower emissions than a traditional coal plant. The company obtained a $270 million grant from the Department of Energy and $412 million in federal tax credits to support construction of the project.
Another low-carbon coal project is being developed by a coalition of utilities and coal companies called FutureGen. The $1.3 billion project would retrofit a 200-megawatt Ameren Corp. (AEE) coal plant in Meredosia, Ill., with so-called advanced oxy-combustion technology and build pipelines to ship captured CO2 to a nearby storage facility. A federal environmental review of the project, which has $1 billion in federal funding, is still pending.
AEP, one of the nation’s largest utilities and one of the largest coal-fired power generators, is still focused on cutting emissions. The company has estimated that it will likely to have to modify or shut down several of its older coal-fired power plants under pending federal limits on traditional pollution that could cost $6 billion to $8 billion over the next nine years.
Shares of AEP closed Thursday about 1% lower at $37.55.
-By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires; 415=269-4446; firstname.lastname@example.org