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Investor, government interest in carbon capture development touted by industry


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Investor, government interest in carbon capture development touted by industry

Though carbon capture technology has not yet been widely commercialized, several speakers at a recent industry event said there is strong investor and governmental interest in its development.

Jason Selch, CEO of Enchant Energy Corp., the company seeking to retrofit the San Juan generating station in New Mexico with carbon capture and storage technology, told attendees at the National Coal Council's Sept. 12 meeting in Washington, D.C., that carbon capture "is not going to happen on its own." Several projects need to roll out and its cost will decline with each new version, he said.

Investors and fossil fuel industries are very interested in carbon capture and see it as a potential positive investment to combat climate change, he said in an interview following his remarks. The financial industry is looking closely at the revised section 45Q tax credit intended to promote investment in carbon capture and storage technology. The U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service have not yet issued guidance on how to use the credit, but issued a request for comments on the topic in May. The legislation was passed in 2018 and the credit applies to projects that break ground by the end of 2023.

Enchant Energy will address the financial market in 2020 to help with the project's construction, Selch said, noting that investors are positioning themselves to take advantage of the credit.

While Selch does not think any new coal-fired power plants will be built in the U.S. given low natural gas prices, other nations lacking a natural gas industry are building out their coal fleet and will need carbon capture technology to limit emissions.

"The United States needs to use their leadership in technology here to put in place these plants to perfect the technology so that we can ship that technology to other countries," the CEO said.

Brian Anderson, director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory operating under the U.S. Department of Energy, said the industry and researchers need to bring the cost to capture a ton of carbon down to $30 per ton to make it economical.

"We know that the 45Q [tax credit] presents a tremendous opportunity, and we're well aware of the sunset date and the constraints that that puts on the private sector," Anderson said, adding in an interview that "there's quite a bit of investor interest in getting technologies to market."

He also encouraged the coal sector to work with the oil and gas industries given their "tremendous interest." Exxon Mobil Corp. announced in May that it will invest up to $100 million over the next decade into research and development of lower-emissions technologies with the national laboratory, including carbon capture. The oil and gas sectors are "putting the money where their mouth is in terms of trying to develop these technologies hand-in-hand with the coal sector," Anderson said.

Hilary Moffett, senior director of government relations for Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp., said she has increasingly found that people in Washington are excited to hear about the company's work in sequestering carbon and using it for enhanced oil recovery. Some policymakers want to do something to reduce the nation's emissions but do not agree that the Green New Deal is the solution and are seeking other options, she said.

"Right now, the politics are very difficult, especially as it relates to climate change, so giving folks something that they can support as it relates to climate solutions is something that is widely accepted and appreciated," she said. "For so long, Republicans especially, haven't had a strong argument when it comes to climate solutions."