Lawmakers Told Mitigating Carbon Dioxide Could Cost Consumers

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Lawmakers mulling global warming issues were told that big hurdles face advance technologies like converting coal to liquid fuel, and the methods for capturing carbon dioxide could result in big price increases for electricity.

The Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee also got a glimpse Thursday at a draft climate change report headed to the governor, which says that increasing carbon dioxide emissions is a problem that needs to be fixed. It offers dozens of remedies.

The issues will likely end up before the 2009 Legislature, as it struggles to translate strategies for mitigating climate change into action.

The panel was also told that it’s still unclear if coal gasification touted by Gov. Brian Schweitzer and others can really help solve the problem.

Chuck Kerr, with Great Northern Properties, said many developers like him are waiting to see if coal-to-liquids is feasible. He mentioned such problems as trying to get rights to the large amounts of water the process uses.

And there is no regulatory framework in place to let someone sequester carbon dioxide by injecting it into the ground, another potential problem.

“If we are in a carbon sequestration world, fine, you have to provide the framework in order for us to be able to do it,” Kerr told the lawmakers.

Still, he said his phone is ringing off the hook with people wanting to explore the technology.

“Will one ever get built? I don’t know,” Kerr said.

Paul Cartwright, with the state Department of Environmental Quality, agreed available water would restrict the number of plants that could be built in Montana.

“If you want to build one plant you can do it,” he said. “If you want to build 100 plants, you can’t do it. Somewhere in between — maybe yes, maybe no.”

Schweitzer has minimized the water issue, saying it is not a significant hurdle.

Chuck Magraw with the Natural Resources Defense Council said there is question among environmentalists whether coal-to-liquid plants, costing at least $4 billion each, will decrease carbon dioxide enough to have a big impact. He said it takes a lot of coal to make the liquid fuel.

“Is CTL development compatible with the greenhouse gas emission cuts we need to make?” he asked.

Requiring carbon capture technologies for a coal plant could increase the cost of electricity by 45 percent, said Tim Gregori, chief executive for Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission, which wants to build a coal-fired power plant near Great Falls.

Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, said global warming is evident in Montana, noting the city of Helena is now seeing many more days over 90 degrees and that glaciers are melting in Glacier National Park.

The governor’s Climate Change Advisory Committee, wrapping up its list of ways to deal with the problem, set goals of reducing carbon dioxide production in the state.

A draft version of the report offered such ideas as getting more renewable energy in electricity production and changing building codes to improve conservation. There could be roughly 60 recommendations, officials said.

“Some of those recommendations I think we will be able to implement immediately,” Opper said. “Some of the recommendations are gong to be controversial. But I urge everyone in the legislature to debate these measures openly and in good faith.”