The world's first large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) power station has been switched on in Canada, with some hailing the transformative potential it could have on the fight against climate change.
The technology used in the SaskPower International facility allows fossil fuels to be burned, while avoiding warming the planet, authorities have stated, although green campaigners have questioned the claims.
The Saskatchewan plant will capture 90% of its emissions, which works out at about 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. It has been described by the International Energy Agency's executive director, Maria van der Hoeven, as an "historic milestone" but, given the massive cost of the facility, it's uncertain how feasible widespread rollout might be.
SaskPower's Boundary Dam plant in Estevan cost C$1.4bn ($1.25bn, €980m, £617m) and has received about C$240m in state financing. The project overran its budget significantly, a trend common in the nascent CCS sector.
Southern Co's Kemper County CCS project in Mississippi has overrun by more than $1bn and is pencilled in to cost around $5bn. Unlike the Boundary Dam plant, Kemper County will only capture 65% of its carbon dioxide emissions.
Proponents of the technology say it is a logical way of sustaining the use of fossil fuels, while simultaneously negating the impact on the planet.
"Saskatchewan is number one in the world. We simply can't have an effective response to tackling climate change without CCS," said Brad Page, chief executive of the Global CCS Institute, but the project divides opinion – even among the environmental lobby.
The majority of the carbon dioxide captured from the plant will be stored underground but some will be transported to oilfields to be used in oil recovery operations. This carbon will be purchased by one of Canada's largest oil and gas companies, Cenovus Energy on a 10-year purchase agreement, moving campaigners to question how much good the plant actually does.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, Greenpeace Canada Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator Keith Stewart said: "We need to transition off of fossil fuels, not pour more public money into extending their lifespan. Wind and solar power are already better and more economical options for meeting our energy needs than CCS, which entails a risk of leakage that could negate any potential benefit from the technology.
"The bizarre aspect of this project, however, is that the captured gas will be used to push out what would otherwise be unrecoverable oil. So this project ends up being a huge public subsidy to oil companies to extract and sell oil that would have been left in the ground."