Germany Approves Carbon Capture: Parliament Gives Green Light for Emissions-Friendly Technology
The German parliament has granted its approval for testing carbon capture and storage technology, which enables coal-fired power plants to liquify their pollutants and store them underground. Critics claim the potential dangers of the technology have been inadequately addressed.
It may be akin to the Earth wrapping its lips around a tail pipe and inhaling deeply, but it also viewed as one of the most promising technologies for curbing emissions of climate-killing gases. On Thursday, the German parliament voted to approve testing of controversial carbon capture and storage technology in Germany, which allows power plants that emit environmentally unfriendly carbon dioxide into the air to instead liquefy the pollutant and pump it into underground cavities. The Bundestag voted 306-266 on the issue.
The decision to test CCS in Germany is highly controversial, with many residents contesting the technology, which they believe is dangerous. Leaders of local citizens' initiatives who fear it will present a threat to humans, animals and the environment have been conducting a not-in-my-backyard campaign against the technology for several years now.
Jens Koeppen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats in parliament, complained of an environment of scaremongering and "German angst" against CCS. In Germany, more than 40 percent of electricity is derived from fossil fuels, and without CCS, Koeppen warned, the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius would be unachievable. "There are few risks associated with this technology," he added.
Matthias Miersche, a prominent member of the opposition center-left Social Democrats, however, warned that potential dangers posed by CCS, such as the risk that carbon dioxide could contaminate ground water, had not been adequately addressed.
Environmentalists Offer Mixed Views
Environmental organizations have mixed views of the technology. Greenpeace and BUND, the German chapter of Friends of the Earth, reject it, saying it merely provides an environmentally friendly face that will perpetuate the use of unsustainable fossil fuels. But WWF supports the testing of CCS as promising means of achieving emissions reductions.
Controversially, the law passed Thursday includes an opt-out for states like Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony where opposition to CCS technology is considerable. Many have criticized the opt-out, saying it will greatly weaken the potential for innovation with CCS and make it far less attractive to energy companies. Earlier this year, Klaus von Trotha of IZ Klima, an industrial association that lobbies for the use of CCS, told SPIEGEL the law will "tend to prevent us from finally being able to demonstrate the technology in a large-scale industrial application." And Felix Matthes, an energy expert with the Institute for Applied Ecology in Berlin, called opt-outs a "serious setback for climate protection."
Most of the testing is expected to take place in the eastern state of Brandenburg, where Swedish utility giant Vattenfall plans to construct a 250-megawatt demonstration power plant. The plant is expected to cost 1.5 billion, with 180 million of that price tag coming from the European Union subsidies. A few weeks ago, the company also began a pilot test of CCS at a plant in Ketzin.
The German government plans to test CCS through 2017. Berlin is hoping the technology will not only help to reduce emissions, but will also prove to be an export hit.
dsl -- with wire reports
Stay informed with our free news services:
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
Corriere della Sera
MORE FROM SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL
German PoliticsMerkel's Moves: Power Struggles in Berlin
World War IITruth and Reconciliation: Why the War Still Haunts Europe
EnergyGreen Power: The Future of Energy
European UnionUnited Europe: A Continental Project
Climate ChangeGlobal Warming: Curbing Carbon Before It's Too Late