June 9 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s plans to fight climate change rely heavily on the success of two technology breakthroughs: carbon capture and energy efficiency.
Whether each is ready for prime time will be a major topic for discussion in Washington this week.
Under a proposal the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled in September, new coal plants would need to meet stringent limits on how much carbon dioxide they would release. That would require them to capture the carbon from their smokestacks, and store it in some way, such as by pumping it underground. A measure for existing power plants issued last week relies heavily on states pushing ahead with programs to reduce electricity use altogether.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said capturing carbon and burying it underground “is going to be important for us domestically.” In a meeting with Bloomberg News editors and reporters last week, she added: “If you can look at energy efficiency, there’s tremendous opportunities there.”
For both approaches, critics contend the agency is overly optimistic about the technologies’ capabilities. There are no commercial U.S. power plants that capture carbon, and so companies such as Southern Co. and American Electric Power Co. say it shouldn’t be the basis of the EPA’s rule.
For existing plants, an analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the efficiency gains predicted by the EPA are out of line with historical trends, and so the regulation could end up costing billions of dollars.
Some clarity on which side is correct may come from this week’s two discussions.
At Thursday’s Energy Efficiency Forum, co-sponsored by the U.S. Energy Association and Johnson Controls Inc., McCarthy, business executives, academic experts and outside analysts will all discuss how efficiency can curb electricity demand and carbon emissions -- but may also disrupt the position of long-dominant utilities. The event starts at 1 p.m. at the National Press Club.
Separately, the U.S. Energy Association will host a discussion tomorrow afternoon with Tip Meckel, a research scientist at the University of Texas in Austin, on how carbon capture fits into a variety of energy industries beyond coal-fired power plants, including refineries, shale-gas development and enhanced oil recovery.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING
GRID RISKS: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission infrastructure director Joseph McClelland, North American Electric Reliability Corp. General Counsel Charles Berardescro and former Connecticut state regular Anne George participate in a briefing tomorrow on reliability of the electricity grid. Sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the briefing in the Cannon House Office building will focus on threats from weather, cyber-attacks and physical assaults on parts of the transmission network.
ENERGY SHAKING: A panel of the House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing tomorrow on early detection of earthquakes. The subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources is examining the issue amid the rise in U.S. oil and gas production by fracturing, or fracking, which has generated large volumes that of wastewater that when pumped underground may be linked to seismic activity.
ENERGY PRIORITIES: A House Foreign Affairs Committee panel will hear Wednesday from Amos Hochstein, deputy assistant secretary of State for energy diplomacy, on priorities in the Middle East and North Africa. Hochstein, who works in the department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, is a former staff member of the subcommittee.
ENERGY JOBS: The House Natural Resources Committee’s panel on energy and mineral resources holds the fifth in a series of hearings this year on job opportunities in the energy industry. On Thursday, the panel considers opportunities for innovation jobs. Earlier this year, the panel heard from witnesses discussing jobs for veterans, women, skilled trades and manufacturing.
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