Pipe Dreams

From: The Economist

A fresh effort to store pollutants underground

FOR more than 30 years Peterhead power station has churned out electricity from a windswept spot on the north-east coast of Scotland. Its chimney (pictured) is a familiar landmark for strollers on Aberdeen’s chilly beach. Yet soon the ageing gas-fired plant could host a crucial experiment. Engineers from Shell, an oil firm, and SSE, an energy company, plan to add technology that will capture the carbon dioxide which billows from Peterhead’s furnace and store it in a depleted gasfield more than a mile beneath the North Sea. That could cut its emissions by up to 90%, making Peterhead by far the cleanest gas plant in the world.

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That makes slow progress all the more frustrating. In May MPs on the climate-change select committee complained that government dithering had led to a “lost decade” for CCS in Britain. Money is part of the problem—boffins say energy from the first CCS plants could cost £150-£200 per megawatt hour, four times the current wholesale price of power and more expensive even than offshore wind farms. European laws that oblige Britain to invest heavily in renewables are diverting resources away from CCS, says Judith Shapiro, an industry spokesperson.

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