Posted by: Steven M. Taber | July 16, 2010

GAO Issues Report Concluding that Coal Plants Need Better Technology and DOE Needs Better Data to Reduce CO2 Emissions

On Friday, July 16, 2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report entitled “Coal Plants:  Opportunities Exist for DOE to Provide Better Information on the Maturity of Key Technologies to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” The Report concluded that commercial deployment of the  carbon capture and storage technologies

is possible within 10 to 15 years while many efficiency technologies have been used and are available for use now. Use of both technologies is, however, contingent on overcoming a variety of economic, technical, and legal challenges.

The challenges facing  CCS, GAO says, include the lack of a national carbon policy to reduce CO2 emissions or a legal framework to govern liability for the permanent storage of large amounts of CO2.

Meanwhile with respect to efficiency improvements, the GAO report found that Coal-based electric utilities are discouraged from improving their efficiency because of the high cost to build or upgrade  coal plants.  Moreover,  plant operator expressed concern to the GAO that changes to the existing fleet of coal power plants could trigger additional regulatory requirements, such as new source review requirements under the Clean Air Act.

CCS offer more potential to reduce carbon emissions than efficiency upgrades alone, but utilities told GAO that CCS would increase electricity costs by about 30 to 80 percent.

In addition, GAO found that  because Department of Energy does not maintain useful data on the progress of these two sets of technologies that could aide Congress in crafting climate and energy legislation.  As a result the report recommends:

that DOE develop a standard set of benchmarks to gauge and report to Congress on the maturity of key technologies. In commenting on a draft of this report, DOE concurred with our recommendation.

GAO said that DOE’s lack of data regarding the development of these two sets of technology “limits congressional oversight of DOE’s expenditures” on CCS and efficiency research and development, and “it hampers policymakers’ efforts to gauge the maturity of these technologies as they consider climate change policies.”

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