Climate Corner: Proposed plant a dangerous distraction

Sep 24, 2022

Eric Engle

The company Competitive Power Ventures Inc. has announced plans to build a combined-cycle natural gas power plant in West Virginia, an 1,800-megawatt facility representing a $3 billion investment that could potentially be built in Doddridge County (this is not certain). The facility would use carbon capture and storage technology made possible by expansion of what are referred to as 45Q tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act. This facility, and carbon capture and storage (or carbon capture, utilization and storage, as it is often referred to) more broadly, are terrible ideas.

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is dangerous, unproven at anywhere near scale, and massively expensive, even with taxpayer subsidization. The “utilization” part is often deliberately left out when describing these processes because it’s an environmental nonstarter. Captured CO2 has, more often than not, been used to extract more oil through a process called advanced oil recovery. What’s the use of capturing these emissions if you’re just going to turn around and use them to recover more emissions-producing fossil fuels? Profit motive is the only rational driver in that scenario. As far as actual emissions reductions, a mitigation report released in April 2022 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that, by 2030, CCUS could cut only half the CO2 emissions that could be cut by solar, wind, and efficiency, and CCUS is far more expensive.

When I say that CCUS is dangerous, I mean it’s dangerous to public health and safety. The site, sponsored by the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN), breaks down the numerous ways CCUS is a threat to the lives, safety and health of communities in its path. CO2, for example, is an asphyxiant and toxicant. In high quantities (such as what would occur in a leak from a CO2 pipeline or storage site), it depletes oxygen in the surrounding environment. Inhalation of high concentrations causes a lowering of the pH of blood and tissues (acidosis) causing acute effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems.

CCUS also requires a tremendous amount of water. To quote from SEHN, “A CO2 capture system requires additional water for cooling and make-up, increasing the water requirements for power plants. Estimates in the technical literature show that, with the addition of a full-scale post-combustion capture system, the increase in water consumption per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electrical output can be as high as 90%.” Quoting from the site, “In 2021, more than 300 U.S. research scientists, including many of the nation’s top climatologists and public health professionals, submitted a letter to President Biden calling CCS [or CCUS] a ‘delay tactic’ and a ‘dangerous distraction.’”

All this danger, all this inefficacy, and it’s not even a good economic investment! Sean O’Leary, senior researcher for the organization Ohio River Valley Institute, recently told E&E News the following:

“Once it is completed, the proposed plant will inflict higher taxes and higher utility bills while still contributing to pollution and the loss of jobs and population that has accompanied natural gas development in Appalachia. In short, if the objective is to decarbonize our energy sector at the lowest possible cost, with the greatest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and with the greatest amount of job creation, the development of renewable resources would do a much better job of all three.”

O’Leary mentioned in a Twitter post that, “CCS adds $38/MWh to the cost of generating electricity with gas. In 2021, the wholesale price of energy in PJM [PJM is the wholesale electricity market that includes West Virginia] was only $39.86, so electricity from this plant will be at least 2X as costly as the average. Renewable resources would be cheaper and eliminate emissions entirely.”

We are building electric vehicle batteries, electric car chargers, electric school buses, and even electric pontoon boats in West Virginia. Berkshire Hathaway is investing $500 million in Jackson County for a renewable energy microgrid-powered production facility to produce aeronautic titanium. Let’s not lose sight of that progress in favor of combined-cycle gas, which cannot compete with renewables on a levelized-costs basis, especially with added CCUS. Let’s stay focused on a clean, safe, efficient, renewable and sustainable future for West Virginia as an energy state.


Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.