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Colorado must employ carbon capture technology

 

By Sarah Jensen

Guest Commentary

If we are going to achieve net-zero by 2050 and mitigate the worst effects of climate change, we need to be open to any and all solutions. We do not have the luxury to rule out technologies simply because they do not “feel good.”

Across the nation, governments are setting net-zero targets, but they have little traction in actually meeting them. This is partially because they are spending their time picking and choosing which technologies they want to use, rather than using an all-of-the-above approach that recognizes the value in each and every technology available.

Colorado is no different. In 2019, Colorado adopted the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.

Unsurprisingly, the state is not on track to meet those goals in part because carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies have been looked down on as an unviable technology, despite it being a critical component to meeting the state’s goals.

The four main types of CCUS are precombustion carbon capture, postcombustion carbon capture, oxycombustion, and direct air capture.

Direct air capture pulls CO2 directly out of the atmosphere and mixes it with water to be transported for use or stored underground. Unfortunately, it is the most expensive of the four technologies because of how extremely dilute CO2 is in the atmosphere. The other three carbon capture systems work by capturing carbon at the source where the concentration of CO2 is much higher, such as on a coal-fired power plant, to significantly reduce the amount of emissions coming from power plants. The CO2 captured from these systems also can be transported for use or stored underground.

CCUS technology, if used at its full potential, can reduce Colorado’s annual carbon emissions by 10 million metric tons. One analysis done by Energy Innovation and Rocky Mountain Institute found that CCUS was necessary to capture half of all residual industrial sector carbon emissions and meet the state’s climate targets. The state currently gets about 70% of its energy from fossil fuels and a mere 30% from renewables. The share of renewables will need to increase, but it’s not going to happen overnight. If we can neutralize carbon emissions from fossil fuels with technologies such as CCUS, it will accelerate the transition to cleaner forms of energy. To meaningfully reduce the state’s emissions in the next decade and meet the energy demands of the state’s rapidly growing population, the state needs to get fully on board with CCUS technologies.

Fortunately, Colorado now has an opportunity to become a role model and embrace this technology. Gov.

Jared Polis is expected to be receiving recommendations soon on the potential impact and viability of CCUS from the state’s CCUS Task Force, an entity he created in January 2021. In the past year, the task force met with stakeholders and held public hearings to compile a comprehensive strategy for the governor to consider. One key insight coming from the draft of proposed recommendations is the need for economic incentives to support the implementation of CCUS in the state.

Economic incentives will be imperative to a successful rollout of CCUS across Colorado, and rewarding firms that implement the technology needs to be a top priority. Some of the recommendations from the CCUS Task Force included tax credits and grants that would support the high costs of CCUS implementation and operation. Considering Colorado’s economy receives about $31 billion from the oil and gas industry and the industry provides more than 232,900 jobs in the state, the economic incentives will support the industry as the technology is adopted. If the state can implement CCUS across the state in the next decade, it would buy some time for the market to transition to clean energy sources, all while making sure the economy continues to grow.

CCUS is not an “out” for the fossil fuel industry; it is a pragmatic solution that gives us the opportunity to meet our ambitious climate targets and foster a strong economy that every Coloradan relies on. No matter how “good” or “bad” CCUS feels, we need to embrace it to meaningfully reduce our emissions by 2050.

Sarah Jensen is an ambassador and branch leader for the American Conservation Coalition. She is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental policy at the University of Colorado.

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