NRG has Carbon-Capture Underway; More Controversy over Nuke-Waste; After Bailout, Exelon Went Hiring; Michigan Tightens Requirements; New Source Arguments Stay on Schedule


NRG has carbon-capture underway

The first major utility-scale application of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology has reached full operation, NRG Energy announced in January.

Retrofitting of the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant near Houston, Texas, started in 2014 and was completed within its $1 billion budget, NRG said.

The project differs from the suspended FutureGen experiment in Illinois in that the captured carbon dioxide is not to be pumped underground and left in permanent geologic disposal, but used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a U.S. petroleum industry practice for more than four decades.

From its first recorded use in 1972, EOR has called for injecting CO2—for the most part still obtained from naturally-occurring sources—under pressure to combine with and lighten crude oil deposits for easier extraction. Oil producers recapture and recycle as much of the CO2 as possible for re-injection and additional oil recovery but some CO2, an increasing percentage as more oil is recovered, is incidentally trapped and remains in the underground formation.

A company spokesman said the cost was expected to be recovered by selling captured CO2 to oil producers, and that an oil price of $50 per barrel was expected to be sufficient for the CCS project to break even.

Stage set for more controversy over nuke-waste siting

Inside-the-Beltway guesses that the Trump administration might seek to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project sparked congressional maneuvering in the weeks leading up to the January 20 Inauguration Day.

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told the National Press Club restarting Yucca would be impossible because it faces bipartisan opposition from Nevada elected officials.

As if to bear him out, on the same day (January 11), Nevada’s congressional delegation jointly introduced legislation seeking to bar completion of the project by prohibiting the Energy Department (DOE) from authorizing construction of a waste repository in any state without first obtaining consent from the governor, local governments, and tribal leaders. (The project was defunded in 2011 by the Obama administration but its 2002 congressional designation as a high-level waste site survives.)

Also the same day, South Carolina GOP Congressman Joe Wilson introduced legislation that would thwart DOE efforts, begun under Moniz, to develop new sites as alternatives to Yucca Mountain so long as Yucca Mountain’s future is unresolved. Wilson issued a statement saying taxpayers “have put over $3.7 billion into Yucca Mountain—they deserve to see it completed.”

Wilson’s district includes a major repository of high-level waste that remains there in part because of the failure to complete Yucca Mountain.

After nuke bailout, Exelon went hiring

A week after Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed December legislation authorizing a $235 million annual ratepayer subsidy for two money-losing Commonwealth Edison nuclear plants, parent company Exelon Corp. announced plans to hire more than 400 permanent employees at the Quad Cities and Clinton facilities.

The new workers, Exelon said, will be used “to fast track multiple capital projects” that had been “cancelled or put on hold as Exelon prepared to retire Clinton in June 2017 and Quad Cities the following year.”

Exelon objected to the “Future Energy Jobs Bill” being characterized as a bailout of the uneconomic plants. The same bill provides new wind and solar energy subsidies ramping up to $220 million annually and garnering support from “more than 200 business, labor, environmental, faith-based, and other groups,” Exelon said.

Michigan tightens power marketer requirements

In a move critics say will kill the state’s limited retail electric competition program, Michigan lawmakers at the end of 2016 set new standards requiring alternative electricity providers to either own generation capacity or enter into minimum three-year power purchase agreements to guarantee they’ll have adequate supply to meet customer requirements.

Not joining the critics was Michigan’s state chamber of commerce, an influential supporter of retail competition but also of the legislation enacted in a marathon December floor session. The chamber and other backers of the legislation, including DTE and Consumers’ Energy, the state’s two largest incumbent utilities, maintain it’s needed to avert potential capacity shortages as early as 2018 as coal-fired power plants are retired.

The legislation also raises Michigan’s renewable energy standard to 15 percent by the end of 2021, a 50 percent increase, and sets quotas utilities must meet for energy savings through efficiency programs.

Retail choice in Michigan is capped at 10 percent of a given utility’s total sales. High-volume energy users have lobbied to expand the program, but the limit was retained in the revised energy law.

New source arguments stay on schedule

Oral arguments over the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide regulations for new power plants (new source performance standards) will take place as previously scheduled, on April 17 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Multiple interests challenging the regulation petitioned to extend the briefing schedule, citing uncertainty over the incoming Trump administration’s actions regarding legal defense of the rule.

Without elaboration January 4, the three-judge panel scheduled to hear the case denied the motion to extend the briefing deadline.