Are Canada’s carbon capture plans a ‘pipe dream’?

This article was written by John Woodside and originally publish in Canada’s National Observer on January 20, 2022.

Leading climate scientists and academics are calling on the federal government to abandon a proposed tax credit that gives big polluters a break for investing in carbon capture technology.

The experts say the planned carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) tax credit will lock in fossil fuel use and risk ruining Canada’s chances of meeting emission reduction goals.

In a letter signed by more than 400 experts and sent to the federal government’s finance, natural resources and environment departments Wednesday, the group warned a tax credit that incentivizes carbon capture technologies amounts to a major new fossil fuel subsidy — something the federal government has repeatedly promised to phase out.

“When we’re focusing our resources and attention on technologies that are prolonging fossil fuel use, it means we have less resources and less attention to focus on technologies and innovations that will allow us to move away from fossil fuel use,” said Christina Hoicka, an associate professor at the University of Victoria who drafted the letter with a handful of others.

She described the letter as “a really big cross-section of scholars of energy and climate change in Canada,” including “many Canada research chairs, as well as authors of the reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Carbon capture technology refers to the methods used by companies to trap carbon dioxide released during industrial processes. This prevents it from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Some varieties of the technology can capture carbon released when fuel is burned and even suck carbon directly out of the air. Once the carbon dioxide is captured, it can be stored indefinitely underground or transported through pipes for different industrial uses.

In Canada, SaskPower’s coal-fired power plant Boundary Dam installed a generator equipped with carbon capture technology in 2014, initially promising to trap 90 per cent of emissions. Boundary Dam is one of the country’s top emitters, pumping out about five million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the plant has consistently failed to meet its promised carbon capture goals. Its plan to capture 90 per cent of emissions was dropped in favour of an easier 65 per cent target, but the facility still fails to regularly meet that, too.

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