Editorial: Carbon capture: payment on climate change

December 21, 2009   by Joe Terrett

Holy National Energy Plan déjà vu. The controversial Climate Leadership, Economic Prosperity report from the Toronto Dominion Bank (conducted by The Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation) had ghostly similarities to the Trudeau era plundering of the west in the 1970s. At that time, there was a global energy crisis. Today it’s a different global crisis: climate change and the environment.

The report’s recommendations are likely DOA for the Harper government, but companies involved in the development of energy resources are still waiting for their climate change invoice from the federal government.

Slowing the rate of global climate change will require industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% to 40% below the 1990 level by 2020. Canada’s recalibrated target is 20% below the 2006 level by 2020. Not that Canada has any hope of achieving that goal without tremendous costs to industry.

But the Harper government, knowing it must act, is waiting for the Obama administration to address costs that will inevitably be attached to the production of greenhouse gas emissions so Canada and the US can create a North American plan.

Part of the plan is to accept North Americans are going to generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions as long as our economies are powered by fossil fuels. The energy industry and the federal government are placing a lot of faith in enormously expensive and underdeveloped carbon-capture and storage technology. This technology just got a $865-million boost from Ottawa and Alberta, the beneficiary being a $1.35-billion proposal from Shell Canada, Marathon Oil and Chevron Canada.

But environmentalists such as the Sierra Club in Canada see carbon capture as too expensive at between $75 and $115 per tonne, which is a long way off from the $15 a tonne level Alberta currently charges. And they contend there will be no significant amounts of carbon dioxide sequestered in the Earth’s deep, dark nether regions for at least 10 years. Invest the money in wind and solar instead, they say.

That sounds great, but we can’t build enough windmills or solar panels to power Canada through its climate change deficit. Scientists meeting in Iceland last month recognize the need for CCS technology and said it must be part of any plan to handle carbon being produced by energy hungry industrialized and developing countries.

Carbon capture represents a wise investment in an as yet undefined climate change strategy. An Alberta Carbon Capture and Storage Development Council report estimates the Alberta and Canadian governments will have to invest between $1 billion to $3 billion per year on carbon capture and storage projects after the first wave of CCS tryouts. And consumers will have to help pay.

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