By Madeline Luke
Sonja Kaye, of CLEAN in Fargo gave the third of four talks on climate change issues specific to North Dakota for the “What in the World Series,” in Valley City on April 5.
While the topic of the event was Project Tundra, a carbon sequestration project proposed to operate at the Milton Young Coal Station, Sonja’s information introduced the audience to the science, finances, and possible limitations of this technology which is the cornerstone of Gov. Burgum’s response to the climate crisis.
CO2 is the main but not sole greenhouse gas causing global warming. The burning of fossil fuels is a major source of excess CO2 in the atmosphere.
Coal-fueled electrical power plants were a major source of power in the last century, but they produce the most CO2 of all the fossil fuels. Measures necessary to reduce pollution of all kinds from burning coal, abundant supplies of cheaper and cleaner gas, and high costs of maintaining aging units have led to the closure of many coal-generated power plants in the U.S.
N.D. state leadership, however, has decided to support the local coal industry with a favorable regulatory framework and generous taxpayer subsidies. Kaye states that Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is a false solution to the CO2 problem as well as a bad financial investment for Minnkota Power, citing:
CCS Is the Worst Option To Decarbonize Electricity
Coal extraction itself uses fossil-derived fuels; one ton of ND coal produces 11.2 cubic feet of methane (25 times more potent than C02). The sequestration plant itself requires an enormous amount of steel, again requiring fossil fuels.
The plant produces 6 million metric tons of CO2, yet the plans are to capture only four million tons – even though the stated target goal is 90% capture.
Two projects (PetroNova in Texas and Kemper in Mississippi) closed after operating unsuccessfully. Plants in Canada, Australia, and Wyoming are reaching between 1.8 % and 79% of capture targets.
In the Q and A period, Kaye stated that no carbon capture plant has reached its target goal to date.
CCS Is Not Environmentally Friendly
The CO2 does not disappear. The estimated 4 million tons would require a 6-mile x 6-mile x 1-meter-thick volume of empty space (pore space) every year. Depending on the amount of sand in the injection space the required volume would increase by three to tenfold. If the pore space does not leak, how long will there be suitable pore space? Leakage will relieve the space problem, but Operation Tundra is but one project and what might be safe at 100 tons may not be at 48 million tons.
Sonja Kaye states that industry has thus far not addressed the possibilities of leakage of pressurized CO2 at the injection site, into adjacent pore spaces, nor the possibility of the caprock, the layer which is supposed to keep the pressurized CO2 in place, cracking or heaving.
C02 sites will need to be monitored for leaks long after the project is terminated, as it takes millennia for CO2 to solidify. N.D., along with Wyoming, has been given the sole authority to regulate CO2 injection wells and this responsibility has been given to Minnkota, which has no experience in this field.
High Levels of CO2 Can Acidify the Water Table
Coal-burning already produces heavy metal-containing ash; CCS adds 300-1000 tons of amine solvent to the hazardous waste stream.
High levels of CO2 can be fatal and the process of CCS, involving chemicals and pressure, can be poisonous, explosive, and corrosive. A pipeline rupture at Sartartia, Mississippi sent 49 people to the hospital. Pressurized CO2 releases rapidly in a heavy powder that displaces air, making internal combustion engines inoperative; and freezes steel to a point so cold that it becomes brittle and breakable.
CCS Impedes the Development of Renewable Energy and Lower-Carbon Options
Kaye states that the new electrical grid has access to more flexible and lower-cost ways of generating electricity, but companies heavily invested in coal plants resist changes to preserve the value of their existing assets.
The Lignite Energy Council spent $1.2 million promoting coal in 2019 alone. Their narrative is that coal is necessary for baseload generation, more than 30% renewables is impossible, and the grid is not reliable without coal.
However, the grid problem in Texas last winter was not because of wind and solar failure, according to various energy officials, but rather transmission line capacity, heavy energy use, failure to weatherize facilities, and coal plant outages.
South Australia went for a week in January 2022 using only wind and solar.
In 2021, the Clean Sustainable Energy Authority (CSEA) was created and given the authority to bypass the legislature when giving funds from the Legacy Fund to spend on energy projects. Voting members are the lieutenant governor, the Western Dakota Area Energy Association, four from the fossil fuel industry, and two from the renewable sector with one representing agriculture.
CCS Makes Electricity Less Affordable
Energy-requiring steps in CCS are: Flue gas pumped to scrubber to remove impurities and cool; flue gas pumped to the absorber where amine absorbs CO2; amine-CO2 complex pumped to regeneration unit where heat strips CO2; amine is pumped back for reuse; CO2 is pressurized for storage (between 1500 and 2100 PSI); pressurized CO2 is pumped 1-2 miles underground, under pressure.
Estimates are that 30 to 50% of power from the plant will be needed for CCS; during winter peak needs, CCS will be stopped. Minnkota has received another $5.5 million to study this problem in addition to the $50 million already spent on the completed injection well.
Kaye estimates that over the next 12 years, this will be a $4 billion project, including $1.45 billion for the construction cost.
What else could $1.45 billion buy? The Milton Young plant generates 735 megawatts (MW) of electricity. $1.45 billion would buy 1000 MW of wind, 1205 MW of gas, 1460MW of solar OR 100-200 MWH of battery storage
Why Do This??
Minnkota thinks this is a risky proposition and will not fund more than 10% of the project. Bank of North Dakota, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have all declined. Minnkota has asked the CSEA for a $150 million loan from the Legacy Fund.
The Answer? The Tax Credit for Carbon Sequestration (Section 45Q), called 45Q tax credits. Federal tax credits will pay $50 per ton to sequester CO2, and this may go up to $85 per ton. And this is the beginning of the story for the State of North Dakota Summit Carbon Solutions project.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
To learn more about Sonya Kaye and her work, you may listen to her full talk at Sonja Kaye Presentation, https://youtu.be/4jXyS847oB4
Tom Oakland, Business Manager and Energy Developer for the N.D. Department of Commerce, spoke on the Governor’s Plan for Climate Change on June 15 at Rhoades Science Center at Valley City State University. Streaming options can be found at the “What in the World is Going On“ Facebook page.
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