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19th Jul 2019

Wind farms and 'clean coal' projects scoop EU funds

  • Most of the offshore wind projects will be located in the North Sea (Photo: Tom Jensen/norden.org)

The offshore wind and carbon capture sector received a boost on Wednesday (9 December) when the European Commission selected 15 projects at the cutting edge of energy technologies to receive €1.5 billion in EU funding.

The cash for the nine wind projects, mostly clustered in the North Sea but with one also in the western Baltic, and the nine carbon capture and storage (CCS) activities spread across Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK, is part of the EU's €4 billion economic recovery programme crafted at the start of the year.

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The programme, partially inspired by arguments that publicly supported green jobs would help pull Europe out of its economic crisis, entered into force in August. But the selection of projects has had to wait for assessments by the EU executive as to their eligibility.

The recovery plan targets three areas: offshore wind, CCS and gas and electricity interconnections to help improve energy supply to vulnerable member states and to link so-called energy islands to the rest of the EU energy market.

The gas and electricity projects will take the lion's share of the recovery package money, clocking in at just under €2.4 billion, or 60 percent of the budget.

CCS, still a very controversial technology, which aims to capture CO2 emissions from coal-fired energy plants and steel mills and then bury them deep underground or under the seabed, will receive just over a billion (26%), while offshore wind developments will enjoy some €565 million (14%).

Environmental groups, all strong backers of increased wind energy projects, remain very much divided over CCS, with the more conservative groups arguing that while it posits the continued use of fossil fuels, it is a good stepping stone until other options come online.

Into reverse

They also argue it is the only technology that can allow countries to shift not merely to a "carbon neutral" position, but even a "carbon negative" one, where CO2 begins to get sucked out of the atmosphere.

By stripping away the CO2 from biomass-produced energy, which already sucks CO2 out of the air when plants grow, the technology, if it works, could allow the world to begin to not just halt the global warming process, but potentially begin to reverse it.

Other NGOs, as well as Green parties, argue that the only true way to limit greenhouse gas emissions is to leave fossil fuels in the ground and that CCS technology remains unlikely to be commercially viable on any significant scale before 2030 - far too late to make a difference to climate change.

They also argue that CCS is very expensive when cheaper options such as energy efficiency and genuine renewable sources are available, that it is highly energy-inefficient, requires vast amounts of water and could leak out of the ground.

Each of the CCS projects, most of which aim only to demonstrate the technology, will receive €180 million, apart from an Enel-backed scheme in Porto-Tolle, Italy, which will actually install CCS technology on a 660MW coal power plant and sequester the carbon in an offshore saline aquifer nearby.

The Enel project will receive €100 million. This is still a relatively small-scale project. For comparison, early large-scale CCS demonstrations are estimated to cost €0.5-1.1 billion per project.

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