Utilities to Biden’s carbon capture money: Meh

5 min read

The country’s largest utilities may choose to shutter their fossil fuel plants rather than take advantage of the generous tax credits the Biden administration is offering for installing carbon capture.

POLITICO’s E&E News contacted the 10 companies that control the largest coal and natural gas fleets in the US — and found that only one has active plans to adopt technology to snare their greenhouse gas pollution. Despite substantial federal subsidies and a proposed EPA mandate to cut power plants’ emissions, utilities are simply unenticed, write Carlos Anchondo, Jason Plautz and Zach Bright.

Even in Wyoming, where a 2020 law requires utilities to trap and store carbon rather than close coal plants, a major state power provider announced this spring it would retire plants instead of retrofitting them.

While shutting down more fossil fuel plants could help achieve the emissions cuts needed to avert the worst of climate change, some analysts worry that too many closures could destabilize the grid.

A lack of appetite for carbon capture among utilities could also help conservatives persuade courts to strike down EPA’s proposed pollution standards as too onerous. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) has pledged to challenge the rule in court.

So what gives?

Utilities’ job is to keep the lights on and rates low. New technology means new risks, and utilities don’t like that, said Emily Sanford Fisher of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents US investor-owned electric utility companies.

“This is an industry that is not generally incentivized to work with emerging technologies,” she told Carlos, Jason and Zach. “Our regulatory structure does not love the risk involved in new technology.”

Another reason is costs. Utilities trying to comply with the EPA’s proposal might find it makes more economic sense to retire their fossil fuel plants or switch to hydrogen-fired gas power, said Metin Celebi, a consultant with the Brattle Group.

And while the EPA says carbon capture is an “effective mitigation measure” that power plants can readily employ, utilities are not convinced the technology is ready.

Most carbon capture and storage facilities in the US are linked to ethanol production or natural gas processing. Only one commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant used carbon capture in the US, and the project was mothballed in 2020, amid a drop in oil prices and the onset of the pandemic.

The Biden administration remains undeterred. At a recent news conference, EPA Administrator Michael Regan expressed confidence the technology was “within reach.”

“If we’re successful,” he said, “not only can we deploy this technology, we can also export it internationally. We can help places like China and India reduce emissions and come into compliance.”

It’s Tuesday — thank you for tuning in to POLITICO’s Power Switch. I’m your host, Arianna Skibell. Power Switch is brought to you by the journalists behind E&E News and POLITICO Energy. Send your tips, comments, questions to [email protected]

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How MTG’s district became Biden’s climate poster child

President Joe Biden and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has at least one thing in common: They’re both big fans of a solar factory in Dalton, a sleepy corner of northwest Georgia, writes Robin Bravender.

The area is decidedly not Biden country. Former President Donald Trump won nearly 70 percent of the votes in the area in 2020, the same year the district first sent the flamethrowing Republican Greene to Congress.

So the heart of Greene’s district might seem an odd place for a solar plant that’s become a poster child for the Biden administration’s climate policy agenda.

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Carbon metric vibes at SCOTUS
Republican-led states are urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Biden administration’s method of justifying costly climate regulations, write Lesley Clark and Niina H. Farah.

Their efforts may fall flat — even before a conservative-dominated Supreme Court — because of a precedent set in June, when the high court ruled that GOP-led states didn’t have the power to sue over an immigration policy enforcement.

Hotter days = air travel delays
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said air travelers should brace for even more delayed and canceled flights that have made flying so miserable recently, all because of climate change, writes Alex Daugherty.

“More heat in the atmosphere, thermodynamics 101 — we’re going to have more thunderstorms,” Kirby said at a POLITICO event on reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

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But a split Congress and a razor-thin House Republican majority will make it a challenge to sign any legislation into law.

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The demand side: Unsold electric cars are piling up on dealer lots.

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