Congress May Insure Against Coal-Induced Flatulence


According to a recent "Inside EPA Weekly" report "Members of Congress, the Energy Department (DOE) and industry are debating ways of shielding participants in DOE's FutureGen power plant project from potential liabilities for storing the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions underground, as part of an effort to build a landmark near-zero emissions power facility" "the discussion highlights one of the significant unresolved issues facing FutureGen and subsequent facilities that inject large quantities of CO2 into the ground as a way to minimize global warming". We can imagine a scenario around this. Half-way through the operating life of a "FutureGen" plant, Terra wafts a robust leak, letting go years worth of "sequestered" CO2 in a short period. Stand back stratosphere, here it comes!Some plausible outcomes of such a future occurance: there's no chance of plugging the CO2 leak; the operating permit might require owners to shut down before the loan is paid off; there'll be talk of lawsuits; other similarly designed stations would be surrounded by protestors (the outrage, an exponential function of climate change impacts of the time); and, the newspaper headlines would ask "Now What Do We Do For Electricity?"

It seems impossible to reliably estimate the risk of an insecure CO2 sequestration project from a full-scale coal fired generator operating 24/7 for 50 years. If designers could calculate the risk with certainty, the design could be improved enough around the controlling variables to eliminate the need for liability insurance. But this is a new concept. One thing seems highly likely though. Taxpayers are going to foot the bill— either for the insurance, the operating loss, or (in the worst case) both.