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Coastal Desk

To cut emissions at Louisiana coal plant, utility plans to build $900M carbon capture facility

John Bel Edwards cleco
CLECO
Gov. John Bel Edwards applauds Cleco Power's $900 million plan to capture carbon at its largest, coal-fired power unit at the Brame Energy Center on Tuesday, April 11, 2022.

A Louisiana utility plans to invest $900 million into capturing and storing carbon emissions from its largest power generation units in the state by 2028, the governor’s office announced Monday.

Cleco Power — which serves 291,000 customers across 24 parishes — will spend the next year and a half conducting a $9 million study to design a carbon capture and storage facility for its coal-fired Madison-3 unit at its power plant in Lena.

Coal is widely recognized as the most polluting fossil fuel, responsible for an oversized role in global warming. The Madison-3 is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the state’s electricity generation sector, releasing 3 to 4 million tons annually, according to company officials.

Cleco Corporate Holdings LLC President and CEO Bill Fontenot said the facility will prevent at least 95% of the unit’s carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere. The technology would pull it from the air, cool the carbon near liquid form and store it in underground caves nearly a mile beneath its plant.

“Cleco’s Project Diamond Vault will ensure a clean and sustainable power solution for Cleco customers, while creating and retaining jobs for the communities we serve,” Fontenot said. “In Louisiana, we have the natural resources, the ingenuity, the geology, the people and the infrastructure to transform the power industry as we know it.”

CLECO president and ceo bill fontenot
CLECO
CLECO Holdings President and CEO Bill Fontenot speaks during the company's $900 million announcement on Monday, April 11, 2022.

The company estimates it would create 30 to 40 direct jobs and approximately 1,100 construction jobs in central Louisiana over a three-year period.

The announcement comes just over two months after the state approved its first Climate Plan amid Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push to cut greenhouse gas emissions statewide. He has ordered the state to have “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050 as part of the global effort to limit the growing impacts of a warmer planet.

The consequences of climate change are especially acute in Louisiana, where the Gulf of Mexico is projected to rise up to 2 feet in the next 30 years, exacerbating its ongoing land loss crisis and making coastal communities even more vulnerable to increasingly intense hurricanes.

Edwards’ applauded the company’s announcement Monday, saying it will bring the state closer to his emission targets.

“Today’s announcement is an important milestone on Louisiana’s path to a cleaner energy future,” Edwards said. “Our state has attracted significant investment in the construction of new facilities that minimize emissions.”

Cleco’s $9 million study, expected to be complete by the end of 2023, will be paid for with taxpayer money from a congressional appropriation disbursed by Louisiana Economic Development.

After the study, the company expects permitting and environmental impact review to take until the middle of 2025. Construction would start immediately after approval, and the company plans to start operations by 2028.

The company will look to raise the $900 million for construction through tax credits, Department of Energy grants and private equity investment, according to the press release.

This isn’t the first carbon capture project proposed in Louisiana. Last year, chemical company Air Products announced plans to build a $4.5 billion “blue” hydrogen plant in Ascension Parish that would rely on capture and storage to produce low-carbon fuel. Other companies are looking at areas in southwest Louisiana to store carbon.

The use of public money to incentivize and pay for carbon capture projects in the industrial and energy sectors has been opposed by environmental and renewable energy advocates, arguing that subsidizing what they consider “unproven technology” is a waste of money that could go toward the energy transition and other climate solutions. becoming a carbon capture hub

Sierra Club organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley noted that it’s uncertain how long carbon emissions could be stored underground and whether leaks would occur.

“Fossil fuel companies can’t keep methane from leaking into our atmosphere when stored temporarily, so I’m not confident that a project like this is going to be able to sequester carbon dioxide on a timescale needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change,” he said in a statement.

In addition to the Madison-3 unit, Cleco manages three other coal-fired power generation units — the last in Louisiana. It recently retired its Dolet Hills coal plant at the end of 2021 because the cost wasn’t competitive. The company has pledged to retire its other three coal-fired units — Big Cajun II and Rodemacher — by 2025 and 2028, respectively, to comply with federal rules on coal ash ponds.

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