The US government spent $1.1 billion on carbon capture projects that mostly failed

Coal must become obsolete because renewable energy is getting cheaper, but the US government is keeping it afloat with a promise to capture carbon emissions and store them underground. Now, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said federal agencies spent $684 billion on carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects from coal plants that mostly failed, Gizmodo reported. It also spent $438 million on three other CCS industrial projects, two of which were cancelled.

“DOE [Department of Energy] provided nearly $684 million to eight coal projects, resulting in an operational facility,” according to the GAO report. “The DOE’s process for selecting coal projects and negotiating financing arrangements has increased the risks that the DOE will finance projects that are unlikely to succeed.”

The DOE’s process for selecting coal projects and negotiating financing arrangements has increased the risks that the DOE will finance projects that are unlikely to succeed.

Not only did the Department of Energy use a “high-risk selection” method to choose projects, it also negotiated and financed them very quickly, according to the report. The coal negotiations only lasted three months instead of the usual year “based on the DOE’s desire to begin spending US Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 funds quickly.” In addition, it bypassed the usual cost controls and supported projects “even if they were not meeting key required milestones”.

The DOE recently said it wants to dramatically reduce the cost of carbon capture technology through a program called Carbon Negative Shot. The aim is to remove CO2 directly from the air and sequester it underground at a cost of less than US$100 per ton, deploying it on a gigaton scale.

However, the easiest and cheapest way to cut gigatons of emissions would be to retire expensive coal plants altogether, according to a last year report International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). That’s because the costs of renewables have dropped over the past decade, effectively making them cheaper than coal. And, of course, adding CCS technology to coal would increase costs considerably. That said, coal and fossil fuels are a loaded political subject in the US, despite the global risks of climate change.

In the end, the GAO recommended more congressional oversight of DOE spending on CCS. “In the absence of such a mechanism, the DOE risks spending significant funds on CCS demonstration projects that are unlikely to succeed.”

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