Coal plant kept afloat with carbon capture

The City of Farmington, New Mexico has entered an agreement with the Enchant Energy Corporation to sell 95 per cent ownership of the 847 MW San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) in 2022 to the energy firm. The city will retain the remaining 5 per cent stake. The sale is based on the availability of carbon capture technology that Enchant Energy says will save nearly 1,600 jobs in the area while keeping prices and carbon emissions low.

The energy producer predicts that by 2027, the operation of SJGS with carbon capture technology will save $27m compared with the cost of decommissioning the plant on the originally planned 2022 closure date. The statement from Enchant Energy outlines the fact that the carbon capture technology will be owned by Enchant Energy rather than the City of Farmington.

The SJGS and its adjacent coal mine have provided employment to the region’s locals, including members of the indigenous Navajo Nation. The plant was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2022 following the bankruptcy of former owner Westmoreland Coal Company. The acquisition from Enchant will keep the plant running for the foreseeable future, though two of the operating units at SJGS will still be shut down by 2022.

A study from the University of Edinburgh, reported on here, could provide a basis for the benefits of low-cost, low-emission carbon capture technology that have been described by Enchant Energy. The study claimed that re-purposing offshore oil and gas rigs for carbon capture processes instead of decommissioning them could save money, estimating that the cost would be 10 times lower than that of decommissioning the sites. However, this research was conducted on offshore oil and gas rigs, while Enchant Energy plans to apply this technology to an onshore coal-fired power station. A study by Greenpeace, reported on here, has shown that coal combustion is one of the largest contributors to sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, another dangerous greenhouse gas. While carbon will be captured and stored safely with the updated tech, these sulphur emissions from the extraction and transportation and combustion of coal will remain, though the European Environment Agency predicts that overall sulphur levels will decrease following carbon capture implementation.

Enchant Energy responded to critics of the carbon capture plan like the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, who have raised questions about the ability of the company to find buyers for the captured carbon. Enchant Energy claims to have strong interest from multiple buyers in the Permian Basin who wish to use the carbon dioxide (CO2) in enhanced oil recovery operations, or the process of injecting CO2 into an oil reservoir deep underground to displace and extract the oil. This process provides access to oil that otherwise may not be obtainable, potentially leading to increasing long-term dependence on fossil fuels, but short-term potential to support the further development of carbon dioxide removal systems, which could help offset the pollutants from oil combustion.

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