Manchin points to ‘failing’ Canadian project that EPA relied on for its CCS mandate

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin out of West Virginia, one of the few Democratic party members in Congress to oppose the Clean Power Plan, sent a Nov. 9 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy criticizing standards for new coal-fired power plants that are based on a “presently failing” Canadian carbon, capture and sequestration (CCS) project.

EPA on Oct. 23 published the final version of the Clean Power Plan, which calls for 32% greenhouse gas reductions from existing power plants by 2030, and also a final version of rules for new power plants that require CCS installations for all new coal plants.

In the letter, Manchin pointed out that the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new coal-fired plants in the United States are based largely off the perceived success of the Boundary Dam CCS Project, a still-developing CCS power plant in Canada. He said that Canadian press reports have recently disclosed that the Boundary Dam Project has failed to operate successfully at full CCS for any meaningful period of time. Manchin said these reports prove CCS is still technologically unproven in a power plant application and, therefore, should not be required for U.S. coal plants. Instead, Manchin argues the EPA should scrap this impossible-to-meet rule or amend it to require advanced technology that has actually been implemented, would offer improved environmental performance and is commercially viable.

“Forcing new coal-fired plants to meet standards when experts know that the required technology is not sustainably operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense,” Manchin said. “By requiring technology that has never been adequately demonstrated, the EPA is forcing an industry to shut down and consumers to pay higher utility bills. I have always said that if it is unobtainable, it is unreasonable. If a standard is impossible to meet, for a minimum of 12 months of sustained commercial operation, then it is unreasonable to impose that standard on our people.”

Manchin pointed out that in the final rule, EPA asserted that: “The Boundary Dam facility has been operating full CCS successfully at commercial scale since October 2014.” In fact, the EPA alluded five times in its final rule to the supposedly successful full CCS operation of this project, said Manchin.

However, based on recent news reports from Canada, involving leaked documents on the demonstration unit’s operation, which have been since acknowledged by management at SaskPower, it is now evident that the Boundary Dam CCS Project has failed to operate successfully at full CCS for any meaningful period of time, said Manchin. This result substantially undermines the EPA’s final regulation for CO2 emissions on new coal fired power plants (NSPS), as the full CCS unit on this project served as the fundamental basis for the EPA’s reasoning, he added.

Manchin said that SaskPower is now forecasting the project is on track to become fully operational by the end of 2016, but there are no guarantees that this will prove true either.

The coal and power industries over the past couple of years as EPA put the new plant rule into final form have complained that EPA was illegally using prospective CCS projects to claim that CCS is a proven technology. CCS has had a spotty history in the U.S. For example, American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) a few years ago conducted a pilot scale CCS project at its Mountaineer coal plant in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, but AEP later decided not to scale up that project due to costs and uncertainty about regulatory mandates.

As examples of the Boundary Dam CCS problems:

  • Said a Nov. 9 report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.: “Saskatchewan’s power company has pushed back a deadline on whether to expand its use of carbon capture technology. SaskPower’s president, Mike Marsh, says the company had hoped to make a decision on whether to retrofit another two units at Boundary Dam power plant by next year. But on Monday, Marsh told reporters that decision has been pushed back to 2017. “You don’t undertake a project in excess of [C]$1 billion without having your facts,” Marsh said. He says SaskPower must ensure Unit 3 at Boundary Dam has been operating well enough for an entire year before expanding carbon capture to Units 4 and 5.”
  • Said a Nov. 9 report in the local Regina Leader-Post newspaper: “A consultant who studied SaskPower’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Boundary Dam power station near Estevan says the Crown corporation should have known there would be start-up problems at the [C]$1.5-billion CCS plant and that it would take two to three years before the plant would be operating at 100 per cent of its one-million-tonne of CO2 a year capacity. But Carolyn Preston, principal of CKP & Associates in Calgary, is confident the CCS project, which has been hobbled by cost overruns, construction deficiencies and operating problems, will eventually work the way it was designed, making SaskPower a global leader in deploying carbon capture technology to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at coal-fired generating stations.”
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.