Subcommittee Reviews DOE’s Clean Coal Programs

February 11, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), today held a hearing reviewing the status of the Department of Energy’s clean coal programs. The subcommittee questioned DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal Dr. S. Julio Friedmann and DOE Acting Director for the National Energy Technology Laboratory Scott Klara about the department’s efforts to support the advancement of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies for potential future commercial deployment at coal-based power plants.

Chairman Murphy stated, “There are many questions about the current status of this technology. Answering these questions, and gathering the underlying facts, will help us understand how carbon capture technologies can work effectively and reliably on coal power plants.”

Over the past ten fiscal years, more than $7.6 billion have been appropriated to DOE for its clean coal programs. Murphy continued, “Given this spending, and given the current economic and regulatory landscape, oversight is necessary to ensure DOE’s stewardship of these funds and goals for its research are effective. It is also necessary to make sure energy and environmental policies match the technological realities.”

Members raised questions about the technical readiness and costs associated with CCS technologies, which Dr. Friedmann testified could increase the wholesale price of electricity generated by a coal plant by up to 80 percent. Members also expressed concern that the administration is putting the “cart before the horse,” given that DOE’s projects have not yet demonstrated the successful implementation of CCS on coal plants at commercial scale when proposed environmental regulations require adoption of these technologies. When asked by Chairman Murphy whether CCS technologies have ever been implemented full scale at functioning power plants, Friedmann responded that it is a “moving definition.”

Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) highlighted a document provided to the committee by DOE estimating start dates of various CCS projects, which details dates “a few years down the road.” Long asked Friedmann to clarify if any commercial scale CCS projects exist that are currently generating electricity. Friedmann clarified that, with respect to power generation, the “closest fit” is a synthetic natural gas facility. Watch the exchange here

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) also questioned why many of DOE’s CCS projects were behind schedule or had been canceled. Friedmann responded, “It’s the nature of large projects that they take longer than expected, cost more than expected, and some of them don’t make it.”

Full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) concluded, “It is not yet clear whether DOE is really in the driver’s seat or taking a backseat to EPA on the policy or the technology matters that may have a direct impact on our national energy policy. So as we conduct our oversight, we should be mindful of and think about whether, in fact, DOE is truly up to the task, given existing authorities, for guiding policy and providing the research to support a secure energy future.”