CCS – the legal situation
It is still more than controversial, whether creating underground dumps for CO2 are a suitable way to solve problems. While scientists and environmental groups are still debating, the German government is already setting the course for an extensive use of this dangerous technology.
A directive and its questionable interpretation
The selection process, the licensing procedure and the operation of CO2-storage areas is regulated by the so-called „Directive on geological storage of carbon dioxide“ on the EU-level. Since the directive’s approval on June 25th 2009, the member states are responsible to pass corresponding bills within two years.
On April 1st 2009, the great coalition had already presented a draft law in parliament, which wasn’t passed in the 16th legislative period. Now it’s up to the CDU (the Christan Democratic Party), CSU (the Chrisitan Social Party) and FDP (the Liberal Democrats) to discuss the draft once more. The coalition agreement already included that the draft would be reissued. In the meantime, the German government’s cabinet passed the law.
To secure the approval of the Federal Council, the federal states are supposed to be given the possibility to determine certain regions, where CO2 storage is not permitted. However, the wording in the draft law is very vague and it’s unclear how it will be interpreted in court. A formal exit clause, as requested by the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, is not intended to be included in the draft law.
Officially the law is only about the “trial and demonstration of technologies for a permanent storage of carbon dioxide in subterranean rock stratum”. But the draft law already includes comprehensive regulations, for example on the operation of a pipeline grid for CO2, which have nothing to do with research and trial. Further, the storage cap established in the draft law is set too high. The German government is allowed to store three million tons per year in one site and eight million tons per year in the entire territory of the Federal Republic of Germany. To claim, that it is possible to store an amount that corresponds to the emissions of a big coal-fired power plant unit in only one site is more than the asserted next step to research and trial of the CCS-technology. The EU-directive is based on the estimate that until 2020, seven (!) million tons can be stored in the entire European Union.
So far, only very little amounts of CO2 have been stored. The German government’s draft law is an environmental experiment which is based on the belief that technology can prevail over nature.
The risk is with the state and the citizens
Considering that the storage is supposed to be permanent, the time limit for liability presented in the draft law is particularly absurd. The operating company is only liable for damage and risks for 30 years after the closure of the storage site. After that, the liability is passed on to the state, which is also responsible for purchasing emission permits in case of leakage (in cases when CO2 or other components of the flow of carbon dioxide leak from the storage complex). In this 30 year period, the operator has to pay a contribution to aftercare which amounts to 3% of the permits’ total value. The operator cannot be held liable beyond that, as soon as the state has taken over liability and responsibility.
As long as CO2 is stored below ground, the operator pays the communities that hold the land above the storage site a compensation, which is even lower than the contribution to aftercare it pays to the state. The owners of the above ground property do not receive compensation. They have to tolerate permanent CO2 storage beneath their property.
CCS research thwarts the development of renewables
Disappropriation to facilitate trial, transport or other storage measures are legitimate, if it serves the “common good”.
If an examining authority is already signed up for examination, it has the exclusive right to examine the site. During the period of the examination authorization, other use of the territory that could compromise the site as a carbon dioxide storage area is not permitted. Simultaneous examination i.e. geothermal analyses or studies on compressed air (as a storing system for renewables) are hereby blocked.
Inspired by the initiative of several citizens’ intitiatives, the parliamentary group of the LINKE (Leftist Party) presented a draft law to prohibit the storage of carbon dioxide below ground. The EU directive explicitly includes the possibility for a nationwide prohibition of CO2 storage and that needs to be implemented!
Article 4, Section 1 of the EU Directive 2009/31 by the European Parliament and the European Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide:
“Member States should retain the right to determine the areas within their territory from which storage sites may be selected. This includes the right of Member States not to allow any storage in parts or on the whole of their territory.”
EU Directive 2009/31 of the European Parliament and the European Council on geological storage of carbon dioxide [23.04.2009]:
Expert’s draft for a law to demonstrate and apply technologies to capture, transport and permanently store carbon dioxide [14.07.2010]:
Draft law to prohibit the storage of carbon dioxide in the underground of the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany (CO2-storage prohibition act– CSpVG) [23.03.2011]:
CCS in Brandenburg – an overview
CO2 is supposed to be captured, liquified, pressed and stored underground, using CCS technlogy. In Jänschwalde in the federal state of Brandenburg, the climate camp site, a demonstration plant is meant to be built for trials of the technology, which so far remains mostly untested. The CO2 captured there is supposed to be stored underground in sites around Beeskow and Neutrebbin. It is yet unclear, whether the mixture of CO2 and heavy metals will stay underground or leak and return to the surface or contaminate drinking water. The propagation area of the CO2 starts at the storage sites and extends to Berlin towards the West and beyond the Polish boarder on the eastern side.
If the demonstration plant is implemented, more plants are to follow. The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) examined 408 possible storing sites in all of Germany.
Energy companies are using the spurious argument of „clean coal“ through CCS in order to stick to antiquated energy structures and lignite, which is extremely harmful to the climate. The Lusatian open-cast lignite mines alone forced over 30.000 people from 136 villages to resettle in the past years. The scheduled new open-pit mine Jänschwalde-Nord will make the villages Kerkwitz, Grabko and Atterwasch disappear from the map.
For the protection of the climate, „final disposal“ of CO2 is an investment that’s linked to a high risk. The verdict that is used in the nuclear context is valid in this case as well: There is no safe final disposal site. The use of CCS lowers the efficiency of power plants, so that more coal has to be burned, which produces a significantly higher amount of CO2. And if CCS ever was to be proven safe, there isn’t an unlimited number of storage sites. Further, those sites would no longer be able to serve for the generation of geothermical power. The transition to renewable, decentralized and democratic energy supply is impossible as long as we cling to power generation from coal.
When it comes to CCS, Brandenburg has an important role in the decisionmaking process. At the moment, Brandenburg’s federal government wants to turn the federal state into a lab for the trial of final storage of CO2 – against much popular resistance. The decision is expected to be made this year.
In a concerted struggle with the citizens‘ initiatives against the final storage of CO2 and lignite mining, we demand a socially just exit from coal. We do take the fact that people in the region fear for their jobs very seriously. But only if we initiate structural change now, new perspectives can be created in time. Brandenburg could become a role model for energy sovereignty and energy supply from 100 % renewables. This is where the region’s actual development potential is, not in clinging to lignite.