September 22, 2009

Utility readies carbon capture experiment

An experiment to retrofit a coal-fired West Virginia power plant to sequester its carbon dioxide emissions is drawing worldwide interest, observers say.

American Electric Power, the largest electricity producer in the United States with a coal-fired grid of power stations stretching across 11 states, was preparing Tuesday to start an experiment at its gargantuan Mountaineer power station in New Haven, W.Va., to remove, or sequester, carbon dioxide from its smokestacks and pump the gas deep underground, The New York Times reported.

The experiment has attracted visitors from as far as China and India, where local officials are also struggling with cutting down on greenhouse gases, as well as both supporters and critics of such clean coal technologies, the newspaper said.

Coal industry supporters say the sequestration retrofitting technology could prove more feasible than building brand new coal-fired plants, which supply half of the United States' electricity needs. Some industry observers, however, say the retrofits rob the plants of up to 30 percent of their generating capacity, and could be more expensive than nuclear or solar power.

The Times said environmentalists who generally oppose coal-fired plants contend pumping carbon dioxide into underground chambers could lead to water pollution.