Archive for August 21st, 2009

Utility wants to pour $334 million of stimulus money down carbon capture rathole

August 21, 2009

Would you spend $670 million to maybe change the Earth’s tempertaure by an imperceptible 0.000092 degrees Celsius over the next 85 years?

Utility giant AEP has applied for $334 million in stimulus money to construct the first commercial scale CO2 capture and storage project at a West Virginia coal-fired power plant. That’s about half the money needed for the project. The project goal is to capture 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year and then to store it 1.5 miles below the surface.

How much of a difference in atmospheric CO2 levels will this make?

Atmospheric CO2 accumulation from this plant is the product the emissions (0.0015 billion metric tons of CO2) times its persistence in the atmopshere (estimated to be 40%), which equals 0.0006 billion metric tons of CO2.

Since 1 part per million by volume (ppmv) of CO2 weights 7.81 billion metric tons, the atmospheric persistence of the plant’s emissions is roughly 0.0006 / 7.81, which equals 0.000077 ppmv.

So AEP plans to spend $670 million — remember half is taxpayer money — to avoid increasing atmospheric CO2 levels by 0.000077 ppmv per year. That’s only $8.7 trillion per ppmv avoided.

How much of a hypothetical change in temperature will be achieved by this $670 million expenditure?

If the project started burying CO2 in 2015 as planned, then between 2015 and 2100 the atmosphere would contain about about 0.0065 ppmv less CO2 (85 years x 0.00077 ppmv per year).

Using the IPCC’s simplified expression for calculation of radiative forcing due to CO2 and 380 ppmv for our base year 2007, we get a change in CO2-related forcing of about 0.000092 W/m2, which works out to between 0.0000276 °C to 0.000092 °C of potential warming avoided over those 85 years.

That works out to a rate of between $7.3 trillion to $24.3 trillion spent per hypothetical 1 °C rise in global temperature avoided. Remember, this is only a hypothetical temperture difference; it’s not at all certain that any temperature difference would actually occur!

Moreover, even if this miniscule temperature increase were avoided, it’s not at all clear that any climatic benefits would actually occur. Global warming is better, after all, than global cooling.