Public Outreach Vital For Successful CCS Projects
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SUGAR LAND–July 28, 2009–Written by John Egan for Industrial Info Resources (Sugar Land, Texas)–Successful carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects require extensive public outreach as much as rigorous engineering and sound economics, several speakers told a carbon sequestration conference in Houston last week.
“Public outreach is a big deal [for CCS projects], it is a work process unto itself,” Charles McConnell, Vice President of Carbon Management at Battelle Energy Technology (Columbus, Ohio) told about 50 attendees at Infocast’s third annual carbon sequestration and finance summit. “If you want to be successful, you can’t just show up and make it up.”
“One of the primary risks of carbon capture and storage is the public perception of risk,” added Don Broeils, Vice President of Plant Betterment for Fluor Corporation (NYSE:FLR) (Irving, Texas). “The permitting process is a complex and difficult challenge that is affected by the public’s perceptions about risk and other matters. A massive educational effort [about CCS] is needed,” he told the conference, stating that public outreach “is a major, major issue.”
As recounted by speakers and attendees at the Infocast conference, the public has expressed a wide range of concerns about carbon capture and storage projects, ranging from the potential for carbon dioxide to leak out of underground storage to groundwater contamination to sudden, catastrophic explosions of the highly pressurized gas stored in those projects. These concerns have been expressed about carbon used in enhanced oil recovery projects as well as carbon to be stored underground in saline aquifers.
For the public to fear that carbon dioxide stored in these projects could spontaneously, catastrophically explode is “science fiction,” a University of Texas professor told the conference. But this doesn’t mean the public isn’t concerned about the possibility of such an occurrence. That’s why there is a need to provide extensive information to communities about CCS projects, speakers agreed.
“You need to meet early and often with people who may be affected by a CCS project,” recommended Nicholas Akins, an executive vice president with American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) (Columbus, Ohio), which is building a CCS validation project at its Mountaineer generating station in New Haven, West Virginia. “Some people are afraid they could be killed by CO2 escaping from a CCS project. If you wait until a project is 75% complete before you begin reaching out to the public, that won’t work,” said Akins.
Dr. Gerald Hill, a senior technical advisor to the Southern States Energy Board (Norcross, Georgia), praised the public outreach effort taken by Mississippi Power (Gulfport, Mississippi),a subsidiary of the Southern Company (NYSE:SO) (Atlanta, Georgia), at its CCS project at the Victor J. Daniel Jr. Power Station, located in Escatawpa, Mississippi. “In November 2006, representatives of Mississippi Power started the outreach process by informing employees about the Plant Daniel CCS project. Then they provided elected officials in the affected counties with information about it,” Hill told the conference. “After that, there were meetings with local chambers of commerce, municipal elected officials, and the editorial boards of local newspapers. Then, the public was invited to a series of open houses. It was only after all these steps had been taken that they applied for a permit for the project.”
“This kind of outreach needs to be driven locally,” Hills tells Industrial Info.
Another Southern Company subsidiary, Alabama Power (Birmingham, Alabama), followed the same public-outreach strategy prior to announcing its larger-scale CCS project at the James M. Barry Power Station in Bucks, Alabama, earlier this year. The plant will capture and sequester 100,000 to 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year beginning in 2011. The Daniel Power Plant project, by contrast, was designed to capture and sequester 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, Hill says.
United Power (Gig Harbor, Washington) has spent about $500,000 during the last 12 months on various public affairs and outreach activities to support development of the company’s integrated gas combined cycle (IGCC) power plant with CCS, said Robert Divers, founder and CEO of United Power, which is developing the project as a pilot to prove the technology. The project is an investment that has already paid dividends, said Divers.
“We started by trying to identify every stakeholder group we can that would be interested in this project, and we seek their active participation in a stakeholder engagement process,” Divers told the conference. Environmental and Native American groups were the first groups contacted by United Power when it began developing its IGCC-CCS pilot project in Washington State. “We sought and obtained their neutrality in the project. To have the environmental community stay neutral on a project like this was a very big deal.
“Stakeholder groups may have assets that might not be apparent at first glance,” Divers said. Partnering with other stakeholders is the only way to successfully develop large projects like CCS, which necessarily impact homes and businesses. “We didn’t have any opposition to our pilot project, which allowed us to complete it on time,” he continued. “Our public permitting process took about 20 minutes, instead of three weeks,” because of United Power’s public affairs outreach, he says. “The public is interested in carbon capture and storage, so companies need to tell their story as part of a campaign to alleviate public concern and potentially win public support.”
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