Carbon tax could help CCS reach its potential: tech advocates

Advocates for carbon capture and storage technology, being fostered in Saskatchewan, say it needs to be part of the solution to a "global climate crisis." Carbon pricing, they say, could motivate private investment and increase efficiency.

Government investment can only "provide the seed," they say

Part of a carbon capture and storage facility is pictured at the Boundary Dam Power Station (background) in Estevan, Sask. on Thursday, October 2, 2014. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press)

In a room full of brilliant white tablecloths and clinking crystal, a group of people discussed a global climate crisis.

The dialogue was part of an event called the Global CCS Symposium, taking place on the second floor of Regina's Hotel Saskatchewan on Wednesday.

Carbon capture and storage, they said, must be part of a solution, and the time to buy in is now.

However, those with money need a reason to invest.

What's in it for us?

"In any new technology, one of the things to drive market uptake of it is there has to be a benefit," said Sandra Odendahl, president and CEO of CMC Research Institutes — a social enterprise that helps businesses improve their carbon reducing technologies.

When a company looks at investing money into anything, it does a cost benefit analysis, she said.

"Certainly, a price on carbon would feed into that cost benefit analysis," she said.

"Carbon pricing can help drive innovation, because it provides the impetus for companies to pick up the technologies."

Sandra Odendahl, who works for a social enterprise that helps works with businesses to improve their carbon reducing technologies, says a carbon pricing system could drive innovation.

Odendahl was a part of a panel of speakers who participated in a discussion entitled "CCS: Essential Now!"

The future of carbon capture technology

Saskatchewan has been on the forefront of developing the technology with its Boundary Dam project. However, some advocates for the technology feel that government led projects are only the beginning.

"There is a role for government, particularly at the early stages of technology development," said Graham Winkelman, who works for the mining giant BHP Billiton. "It does provide the seed."

That said, the future of the technology is clear, according to Winkelman.

"Ultimately, the development of CCS will rely on private capital."

Graham Winkelman, who works for the mining giant BHP Billiton, says the future of carbon capture and storage technology is dependent on private investment. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

"The stimulatory effect of a price on carbon will accelerate CCS," he went on, though he was quick to note that the "jury remains open" as to whether it will be enough, given the expense and risk of large-scale CCS projects.

The advantage of a price on carbon, he said, is that it will create a market mechanism, which would then push forward CCS projects in the most viable way.

"If you're not stimulating private sector investment, I don't think we'll get the results that we'll need."

A difference in opinion

However, not everyone sees carbon pricing as a way of driving innovation.

Saskatchewan's premier Brad Wall has taken a pronounced stance against the federal government's carbon pricing plan, calling it "a betrayal," and likening the corresponding white paper to "a ransom note."

If need be, Wall said, his government would consider launching a Constitutional challenge to fight the plan, which was released in May.

"If we have to go to court, we'll go to court," he said.