The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking comment on its interpretation of provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005), which it claims do not alter the agency’s determination that the best system to reduce carbon emissions for new coal and gas-fired power plants is partial carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

The issue has gained traction after the state of Nebraska filed a lawsuit against the agency in federal court this January. Nebraska alleges the EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new power plants violates EPACT 2005.

The state claims, as have a number of Republican lawmakers, that the EPA relied on projects funded by the Department of Energy’s 2002-established Clean Coal Power initiative (CCPI) to justify carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as being “adequately demonstrated” when it proposed the rule under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. But that violates Section 402(i) of EPACT 2005, which prohibits any facilities receiving assistance under the act to be considered as “adequately demonstrated” for purposes of Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, critics say.

The EPA issued a notice of data availability (NODA) to support the NSPS rule on Jan. 8, 2014. On Feb. 5, it officially signed an action soliciting comments on the NODA and an associated technical support document and submitted it for publication in the Federal Register. Comments are due on March 10.

The agency reiterates in the documents that the rationale for emissions standards for new fossil fuel–fired boiler and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) generating units is backed by the determination that the best system of emission reduction (BSER) for those sources is partial CCS. “[P]artial capture is technically feasible and can be implemented at a reasonable cost,” it says.

It also acknowledges that EPACT 2005 limits reliance on information from facilities that have received assistance under the act, including being allowed tax credits under the internal revenue code. However, EPACT 2005 limits that reliance if used only as the “sole basis for a determination that a particular technology” is the BSER that is adequately demonstrated, the EPA noted.

“The EPA may rely on information from those facilities in conjunction from other information to support such a determination, or to corroborate an otherwise supported determination,” it says. As well as EPACT 2005–supported projects, the agency considered “existing projects that implement CCS, existing projects that implement various components of CCS, planned CCS projects, and scientific and engineering studies of CCS,” it adds in the technical support document. 

In that document’s appendix, the agency lists at least seven postcombustion projects it considered—only three of which received EPACT funding: American Electric Power’s Mountaineer project, Southern Co.’s Plant Barry, and NRG Energy’s WA Parish Plant.

The projects that didn’t receive federal funding include SaskPower’s Boundary Dam project, a Canadian CCS project that is slated to come online in April 2014 this year. Also listed are the Warrior Run project in Maryland and Shady Point project in Oklahoma—both at coal-fired plants run by AES Energy that are equipped with postcombustion amine scrubbers developed by ABB/Lummus. Warrior Run, begun in 2000, captures 200 tons of carbon dioxide per day for use in food processing, while Shady Point, begun in 2001, captures 800 tons per day.

The Searles Valley Minerals soda ash plant in Trona, Calif., was also considered. That project has captured an average 800 tons per day of carbon dioxide from the flue gas of a coal-fired power plant via amine scrubbing for use in the production of soda ash since 1976.

Of only five key pre-combustion capture projects considered, only one did not receive EPACT funding: the Dakota Gasification Co.’s Great Plains Synfuels plant, which has been capturing more than two million tons of carbon dioxide per year on average since 2000.

The technical support document also cites the Global CCS Institute’s recent assessment to support the EPA’s claim that “CCS is often mistakenly perceived as an unproven or experimental technology.”

But as this December 2013 POWER infographic that was based on that assessment’s data shows, only 29 of about 64 worldwide large-scale CCS projects (capturing more than 25 million metric tons) are power generation projects. No commercial large-scale power generation CCS projects yet exist in the world—and only two are in the construction stage. Since January 2012, at least 11 much-watched large-scale CCS projects worldwide have been scrapped or put on hold mostly due to economic reasons—and they were all power generation projects.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)