World’s first commercial-scale carbon-capture coal plant opens in Saskatchewan

It will provide power to about 100,000 homes and businesses. Some of the carbon that is captured will be stored underground, and some will be used for enhanced oil recovery to help extract oil that is difficult to reach.

Boundary Dam cost more than $1.2 billion (a mix of provincial and federal funding was used); in the future, the facility expects to offset higher costs by selling the captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery.

At the facility’s opening, Bill Boyd, Saskatchewan’s minister of the economy, said, “This project is important because it is applicable to about 95 percent of the world’s coal plants.”

Like many states in the Midwest, Saskatchewan has an abundance of coal, enough to last an estimated 300 years. In 2014, coal was used for 39 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. and continues to be the largest fuel source for electricity, followed by natural gas (27 percent), nuclear (19 percent) and renewables (19 percent). 

Coal is the primary source for electricity generation in most Midwestern states (see table), with the lone exceptions being Illinois (nuclear energy) and South Dakota (hydropower).

In the four Canadian provinces affiliated with the Midwestern Legislative Conference, coal is the major source for electricity in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Manitoba relies on hydropower almost exclusively, and Ontario uses nuclear power for more than 60 percent of its electricity. Ontario, in fact, no longer generates electricity from coal, meeting a commitment from the provincial government to close all coal-burning plants by 2014. (Provincial data in the table are for 2013.)

While commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) has not come to the United States yet, there are a number of projects in the planning and construction phases.

These projects are likely to be needed, even as the U.S. increases energy efficiency and the use of renewables. The federal government projects that although coal use will drop over the next 15 years, it will still be used to produce a third of the electricity generated in 2030.

Developing and commercializing CCS facilities is expensive, and while many would like to see the U.S. move away from fossil fuels, it will be a slow process. Federal emissions regulations may encourage the development of CCS facilities, but so far, many have required federal assistance.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, large-scale power plants with CCS capability are under construction in Mississippi and Texas, with several others, including FutureGen in Illinois, in the construction or planning stages.

FutureGen, developed by a number of coal companies and industry suppliers, plans to capture and store 1.1 million metric tons of carbon per year. The project will retrofit an existing coal plant and sequester the carbon in four underground wells. The facility is expected to cost $1.65 billion, with $1 billion coming from the U.S. Department of Energy. In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authorized permits for the facility to store carbon underground.

Stateline Midwest ~ November 20141.13 MB