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SaskPower clears the air about Boundary Dam carbon capture performance


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SaskPower clears the air about Boundary Dam carbon capture performance

The Canadian operator of the world's first successful carbon capture and sequestration power plant has defended the facility from attacks in a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA's carbon performance standards for new coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. SaskPower said in a Dec. 22 brief to a federal appeals court that the coal-fired generator is working just fine, and outages that the rule's opponents have pointed to as evidence of the project's failure were in fact routine.

The EPA held up the Boundary Dam power plant as a shining example of CCS technology's potential in its rule addressing carbon emissions from new power plants in an effort to justify a requirement that all new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. obtain a certain level of carbon capture. Opponents of the standard, however, cried foul after the project, located in Saskatchewan, suffered challenges in its first year of operation, which resulted in a lower-than-planned capture rate. A number of states and industry stakeholders filed suit against the rule, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is currently reviewing the matter.

But the issues at Boundary Dam have now been ironed out and were typical bumps in the road on the way to rolling out a new technology, SaskPower says. The power plant, which has CCS applied to one of its four currently operating units, has since achieved an important milestone: the capture of more than 1 million tonnes of carbon. The facility has now proven the nameplate 90% capture rate, helping the provincially owned and operated SaskPower to meet its obligation to reduce pollution as part of an agreement between the federal and provincial governments.

"After the October 2014 launch, SaskPower anticipated issues as it moved from commissioning the process to ongoing full-time standard operations," the company said in a Dec. 22 brief to the D.C. Circuit.

Carbon emissions created in the process of burning coal at Boundary Dam are sold and transported via pipeline to be used for enhanced oil recovery in nearby oilfields. Any leftover carbon is injected and stored into what SaskPower calls a safe and permanent deep saline formation, a process dubbed Aquistore. So far, just 100,000 tonnes of captured carbon has been injected while the rest has been sold off.

SaskPower said the company found certain design defects, deficient equipment, flue gas heat issues and other challenges, which were addressed. But other parts of the project worked "right out of the box" on startup, such as the fundamental chemistry behind the technology.

The facility experienced a major outage between September and October 2015, but performance has since improved. SaskPower intends to take the unit offline again in the summer of 2017 to address a number of remaining deficiencies, and these outages will continue to be a part of a two-year maintenance cycle that all of the company's coal-fired power plants undergo. After the outage, the Boundary Dam unit could achieve even higher capture rates, SaskPower said.

Boundary Dam has been so successful that SaskPower is analyzing the possible addition of CCS on two other units at the plant. A decision for the next two oldest turbines is expected by the end of 2017. SaskPower believes a savings of 20% to 30% could be achieved on the next build-out.

Moreover, the company believes that CCS has potential beyond coal-fired generation, and research is underway to apply it to natural gas-fired generation, biomass, other renewable options and other industries that emit carbon.

SaskPower said it sought to intervene as an amicus curiae on the EPA's behalf in the American lawsuit to offer lessons learned and first-hand information on the operation of a CCS power plant.