From SunShot to a Carbon Capture Moonshot

Last month, the Department of Energy announced the solar industry met an ambitious goal to make the solar electricity market competitive, a feat achieved three years ahead of schedule. The SunShot initiative, as it was called, is a great example of what that can be achieved with the help of federal and state policies that promote private sector investment. Now it’s time to apply that formula and commitment to other clean-energy technologies, including carbon capture, use and storage.

The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that the country has already reached the SunShot initiative’s 2020 price goals of $1 per watt and less than six cents per kilowatt-hour for utility-scale solar energy. This is an impressive display of policy solutions in action, current International Trade Commission dispute notwithstanding.

This was achieved with the help of federal investments in research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D), as well as a federal investment tax credit and a federal loan guarantee to support project financing. Meanwhile, strong state policies like the California Renewables Portfolio Standard supported deployment by enabling developers to enter into above-market power purchase agreements.

Carbon capture, like solar and other low-carbon technologies, will be essential to meeting our long-term emissions reduction goals. This versatile technology can be applied to coal and gas-fired power plants, as well as steel, cement, and fertilizer production plants and refineries.

2017 has already been a banner year for carbon capture. NRG Energy’s Petra Nova project came online as America’s first commercial-scale coal-fired power plant retrofitted with carbon capture and the largest of its kind in the world, and the ADM Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project opened as the world’s first commercial-scale ethanol plant retrofitted with carbon capture. Even with these successes, more national investment in RDD&D and support for private sector commercialization is needed. The International Energy Agency warns that carbon capture technology is not on track to meet long-term emissions reduction goals necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change .

To highlight current successes and the potential of next-generation technology, C2ES organized a policy briefing featuring U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). As proof that bipartisan progress on energy policy is possible, the four in July introduced the FUTURE Act, which would extend and expand the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon capture. The Senate bill has 25 sponsors. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) also introduced legislation on 45Q in the House, and it also has substantial bipartisan support from 38 sponsors.

Speakers at the C2ES event highlighted the need for federal policy leadership to expand corporate investment in carbon capture technology and bring next-generation technologies to market. Carbon capture technology also needs overlapping incentives like federal tax credits, loan guarantees, and state portfolio standards that worked to help bring down the cost of solar energy.

C2ES President Bob Perciasepe speaks about carbon capture technology with Al Collins, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs, Occidental Petroleum Corporation; David Greeson, Vice President of Development, NRG Energy; and Christopher Romans, Senior Manager for Government Relations, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America.

Two days before the C2ES event, a hearing before Sen. Barrasso’s Environment and Public Works Committee highlighted opportunities to invest in pipelines for manmade carbon dioxide, to spur regional investment in carbon capture.

Carbon capture would also benefit from the use of Private Activity Bonds, often used for infrastructure projects like airports and water sewer projects. To this end, in April 2017, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, and Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) introduced a companion bill in the House.

Congress can also support carbon capture through the appropriations process, particularly through continued support for carbon capture RDD&D. For FY 2018, the House of Representatives appropriated $668 million for the Office of Fossil Energy, and it would be beneficial for the final appropriation to be close to this level. Support for large-scale transformational pilot projects (such as in the House’s FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill) and using the loan guarantee program for carbon capture projects would also be helpful.

Looking ahead, DOE should develop a strategy and long-term roadmap—a “Carbon Capture Moonshot.” Building on the success of the SunShot initiative and the Petra Nova and ADM project milestones of 2017, it is the right time to invest in carbon capture to increase lower carbon energy production, reduce emissions, and grow our economy, while keeping and creating jobs in the process.