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Post-mortem: Auditors analyse EU’s failed carbon capture projects

30 October 2018

EU-funded efforts to boost the uptake of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies have failed largely because of a lack of coordination and long-term strategies that scared away investors, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors.

The EU watchdog looked into funding programmes launched between 2008 and 2017 in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom but found that they fell short of their targets.

Under the European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR) and the New Entrants’ Reserve (NER300), a war-chest of €3.7 billion was available to invest in projects that could show the commercial viability of CCS.

Only one project, funded under the EEPR in Spain, is currently operating but it is not of a commercial size. Four other projects were terminated early and another, in the Netherlands, did actually acquire a carbon storage permit but the facility is not in use.

NER300 aimed to fund eight projects but the first call for tender failed to award any grants after the European Commission concluded that none fulfilled the necessary legal requirements.

For example, three UK-based projects were cancelled because the British government made its contribution dependent on a national competition that was underway at the time. A second call for proposals was also unsuccessful after the UK nixed its support scheme in 2015, according to

CCS technology involves capturing emissions of industrial installations and burying them underground, often in depleted oil and gas fields. The technology was initially touted as a silver bullet to address emissions from coal power plants but failed to take off as renewable energies became cheaper.

Still, CCS is seen as one of the few options available to address emissions from process industries such as steel and cement which are heavily carbon-intensive.

European scientists have recently tried to revive interest in CCS, warning that keeping global warming well below 2°C – the headline target of the Paris Agreement – will be “more difficult, a lot more expensive, and a lot more delayed” without it.

Given that funds were only allocated by NER300 to completed projects, the question of what to do with nearly 500 million euro in unspent money quickly arose.

The programme’s initial rules stipulated that leftover cash would be reimbursed to the member states but a decision by the Commission’s Climate Change Committee in late 2017 moved the goalposts and now the money will be used to top up European Investment Bank projects.

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