Canadian power utility SaskPower has unveiled the world’s first large-scale coal-fired power station equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in the province of Saskatchewan.
The move, hailed by the industry as a turning point in combating climate change, will help the potash-rich province to trap about 90% of its emissions, or about 1m tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said in a statement the project represents a “historic milestone” on the road to a low-carbon energy world, and should prove that capturing carbon emissions from a big coal plant is possible.
SaskPower’s project aims to demonstrate that the so-called “clean coal” technologies are feasible for conventional power plants that use the fossil fuel as a fuel in the generation of electricity.
“Carbon capture and storage is the only known technology that will enable us to continue to use fossil fuels and also decarbonise the energy sector,” the IEA executive said. “I wish the plant operator every success in showing the world that large-scale capture of CO2 from a power station is indeed not science fiction, but today’s reality.”
Countries around the world have poured over $20 billion into similar projects in recent years, in an effort to develop carbon capture and storage technologies, known as CCS.
Despite the benefits, experts say the new technology comes with a very high price tag.
“[If] you transfer the cost in terms of electricity prices, prices have to go up by 80 %,” Asian Development Bank executive Ashok Bhargava told CBC. “Nobody can afford that. So they have to come down within a level of 25 to 30%.”
Additionally, some environmental campaigners argue that the pursuit of CCS is a wasteful sideshow that will divert money from cleaner forms of renewable energy, such as wind farms, extending the coal industry’s life instead of ending it.
But experts note that one of the advantages of this technology is that it doesn’t require all new infrastructure, unlike such renewable technologies as solar and wind farms.
SaskPower’s goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at its Unit # 3 power station by 90 per cent per year, or about one million tonnes of the greenhouse gas.
The project includes some $240 million in funding from the federal government.
Saskatchewan has no plans to phase out coal, which — according to SaskPower — supplies 47% of its electricity.
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