The Carbon Sequestration Cost Everyone Else Forgot

Let's hope that some key US Congressional staffers read this post about "Implications of generator siting for CO2 pipeline infrastructure" and talk to its authors. That said, we lay down some pipe talk.

Coal fired power generating plant location is based several things, choosing between many variables to optimize profit, of course. Key ones are proximity to the electricity "demand" (customers), access to cooling water, friendliness of the neighbors (read: NIMBY), a nearby railroad for fuel delivery, and so on. When it's taxpayer-financed, gas-to-liquids, extra-super-clean, coal-plant-of-the-future, you can also be sure location might have something to do with the districts of certain US Congressional supporters. But there's one more factor coming.A carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology has to be optimized for around provision of a high-pressure pipeline, possibly a highly insulated pipeline, with access to a place where deep, underground sequestration won't turn into an enormous climate-destroying Terra belch.

What do to capital installation and operation and maintenance costs for CCS pipelines do to utility profits; and, what are the implications for land owners? Let's have a look.

From the carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) study itself. we have this concise abstract, (bold is ours):

TITLE: Implications of generator siting for CO2 pipeline infrastructure
AUTHOR: Adam Newcomer and Jay Apt

ABSTRACT: The location of a new electric power generation system with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) affects the profitability of the facility and determines the amount of infrastructure required to connect the plant to the larger world. Using a probabilistic analysis, we examine where a profit maximizing independent power producer would locate a new generator with carbon capture in relation to a fuel source, electric load, and carbon sequestration site. Based on models of costs for transmission lines, CO2 pipelines, and fuel transportation, we find that it is always preferable to locate a CCS power facility nearest the electric load, reducing the losses and costs of bulk electricity transmission. This result suggests that a power system with significant amounts of CCS requires a very large CO2 pipeline infrastructure.

Wondering why a little old pipeline is so expensive to build and to keep safe?

CO2 is transported in a supercritical fluid state to maximize piping efficiency (McCoy, 2005). Operating pressures at the end of the pipe remain above 10.3 MPa to ensure that the CO2 does not fall below the supercritical state, potentially damaging equipment (Bock et al., 2002;

That's not all.

Additional pumping stations may be required to boost the pressure along the pipeline to compensate for pressure losses depending on the pipeline length. Although the need for a booster station is site specific, we use a range of 100 to 250 miles between booster stations, reflecting the operation of currently operating CO2 pipelines (Dakota Gasification Company, 2007; IPCC, 2005).

Here's a great illustration of the how a single variable -- transmission line construction -- affects profit. Apparently transmission lines are more expensive to build than C02 pipelines.

In general, as the transmission line distance increases, the profits decrease because of the high cost of electrical transmission. There are jumps in the profitability as larger lines with smaller resistances can be used. At a distance of about 160 miles, the transmission voltage (and subsequently, the transformer and switchgear voltages) must be stepped up to transmit electricity effectively, and profits decrease significantly.

Here's the money quote that wraps the model all together:

For all but the smallest sized facilities, it is always more cost effective to locate the generator near the load. This is because losses from transmission are greater than for CO2 and because transmission lines are more expensive to construct. These results are relatively insensitive to the prices assumed for coal, CO2 and electricity. Even with a negative price for CO2 (the facility must pay to dispose of the CO2, rather than sell it for EOR as an additional revenue stream), the most cost effective location for generator with carbon capture is near the load.

TreeHugger comment: this translates for us into most CCS facilities of the future coming with very long pipelines. Like that depicted in this sample run for the model.

Update to comment: Try this scenario out. A public hearing is being held on construction right-of-way for the C02 pipeline. A guy who lives nearby stands up and asks "What happens if an earthquake busts open the pipeline full of high pressure C02; or... suppose some dope with a backhoe digs into it. How much time before we all suffocate?" Lets suppose, without having studied the ins and outs of design safety measures, that the audience perceives that answer as less than satisfactory. How fast will the politicians retreat from this one? Will clean coal plants built on the condition that sequestration will be added eventually then have to back away from the commitment? Much hangs on pipeline safety and costs to achieve it.

Via::Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center Working Paper CEIC-07-11, Image credits:: CM Electicity Industry Center

Tags: Carbon Sequestration | Pennsylvania