Last year, Swedish Company Vattenfall announced its plans to go on-line with a major pilot program to test carbon capture and sequestration at a coal-fired power plant. The company recently acknowledged that permitting snags fueled by local opposition render it unable to commence geologic sequestration of captured CO2. Vattenfall intended to begin capturing CO2 at its 30-megawatt Schwarze Pumpe facility, located in Spremberg, Germany, and sequestering it in the nearby Altmark depleted gas field by March or April 2009. Residents of the host-city, however, have expressed concerns about the safety of geological sequestration, preventing the final permitting approval for the site and creating questions about when - or if - the site could be available for any CCS operations.
Vattenfall’s experience at this project is not an isolated incident. Vattenfall reported delays in obtaining approvals for one of its Danish storage projects pointing, in part, to public opposition by local stakeholders. In June, German news sources reported that activists were protesting plans by electric utility RWE to transport captured CO2 by pipeline from a powerplant near Cologne to a sequestration site on Germany’s North Sea Coast. The Wall Street Journal also reported in April that Royal Dutch Shell had run into challenges siting a sequestration facility in Barendrecht, Netherlands, due to grass roots opposition from local residents.
Public opposition is likely to be a critical strategic and legal consideration for US projects. On Friday, August 21, Battelle, the lead partner in a Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership project announced that it was abandoning plans to participate in a $92 million public-private demonstration project to site a geological sequestration project in Western Ohio. While the partner cited only “business reasons” for its decision, the reported public opposition to the project could not have helped.
These setbacks illustrate the significant challenges that the siting and permit-approval process can pose, particularly in the face of public opposition, to an otherwise promising project. This will be particularly true during the early stages of a CCS deployment. US policymakers and investors would do well to watch and learn from these early case studies, and to ensure that they devote the legal, political and community relations resources needed to ensure that proposed projects move forward in a realistic and timely fashion.