CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- American Electric Power announced Thursday it was halting plans for one of the nation's most advanced projects to test technology for capturing greenhouse gas emissions from a coal-fired power plant.
Columbus, Ohio-based AEP said it would put on hold indefinitely a $668 million expansion of the carbon capture and storage, or CCS, project at its Mountaineer Power Plant at New Haven in Mason County.
AEP officials cited inaction by Congress and the Obama administration to put in place legal requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying without such limits in place it was impossible to finance the project.
The announcement by AEP was widely seen as a huge blow to any efforts to allow coal to be burned while reducing the industry's contribution to global warming.
David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a major CCS supporter, said the AEP decision was bad news for all concerned.
"While the days are numbered for many coal plants, many others around the world will continue to operate and CCS is essential to cut carbon pollution from those plants," Hawkins said. "The principle blame for this shortsighted decision belongs to the polluter lobbies who killed climate protection legislation in the last Congress and to the legislators who were cowed by those lobbyists."
AEP's decision was initially reported by The New York Times Wednesday night and then formally announced by the utility early Thursday morning.
"We are placing the project on hold until economic and policy conditions create a viable path forward," said Michael G. Morris, the company's chairman and chief executive.
Coal is the nation's largest single source of global-warming pollution, representing about a third of U.S. greenhouse emissions, equal to the combined output of cars, trucks, buses, trains and boats. Scientists have for years recommended swift reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
Experts say the key to protecting the coal industry's future is to perfect technologies to capture carbon dioxide from plant emissions and pump those emissions underground. However, CCS has never been deployed on a commercial scale. Critics worry about the expense, safety and a host of technical hurdles, including the huge infrastructure needed to install the equipment on power plants across the world.
At the Mountaineer facility, AEP had already been testing a CCS project it hooked up to a very small stream of carbon dioxide emissions equal to about 20 megawatts of the plant. The newer project was to expand that to cover emissions equal to about 235 megawatts of the 1,300-megawatt plant, or still less than one-fifth of the total emissions.