Early last year, the Trump administration’s Department of Energy celebrated a special birthday. “Happy Third Operating Anniversary, Petra Nova!” the agency trumpeted in a press release. The release boasted of a coal-fired power plant in Texas that seemed to have done the impossible: It successfully removed carbon dioxide from the plant’s emissions for three years, safely storing them. The celebration was early—Petra Nova barely made it to its fourth birthday before being shuttered. Last week, NRG Energy, which owns the project, announced that it would be shut down indefinitely, in what may be one of the last gasps for carbon capture and storage technology in the U.S.
On paper, carbon capture and storage, or CCS, sounds like the solution to all our problems. If we could just suck the carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels and put it somewhere else, we could cut warming without shifting away from old methods of generating energy. In practice, though, the results have been less than promising and failed to scale at anywhere near the levels needed to avert catastrophic climate change.