California has demonstrated leadership in setting ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by setting a target to reduce emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. While California is reducing emissions and expanding clean energy through many means, including a cap-and-trade program, the state appears to be underestimating the effectiveness and readiness of carbon capture technology and how it could help California reach its goal. In consensus comments on the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) draft 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update, a diverse group of nonprofits (including C2ES); environmental groups; and oil, gas, and ethanol companies outlined the current state of carbon capture deployment, the technology’s benefits, and how California could address roadblocks that may be hindering its deployment.
Carbon capture technology has been deployed in U.S. commercial-scale industrial facilities since the early 1970s, including at natural gas processing plants and fertilizer production plants. Most recently, Archer Daniels Midland’s Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project – the world’s first commercial-scale project on ethanol — began operations in April. More than 1 million tons of CO2 will be captured and stored in Mount Simon sandstone. CO2 capture on biofuels could one day lead to negative emissions, since bioenergy crops absorb greenhouse gases as they grow. Also earlier this year, NRG finished – on time and under budget – the first American retrofit of a coal-fired power plant with CO2 capture technology and the largest of its kind in the world. The NRG Petra Nova project near Houston, Texas, is capturing about 1.6 million tons of CO2 annually for use in enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR). Studies have documented the net benefit to the climate of CO2-EOR using man-made CO2.
California has certainly taken positive steps on carbon capture. Looking forward, the pace of carbon capture deployment in the state may be determined largely by legal, regulatory and policy considerations. California should be commended for its leadership in setting an ambitious emissions-cutting goal and charting a path toward reaching it. California can also lead by addressing key policy and regulatory questions to ensure that carbon capture is part of its overall plan.