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Carbon capture pilot project is coming to Hillsborough, despite pushback from clean energy advocates

Young woman with brown hair reading from a cellphone speaking into a microphone at the podium with various people sitting behind her.
Hillsborough County
Video Screenshot
Abby Schnittker, USF undergrad studying communications, addressing the the Board of Hillsborough County Commissioners.

For 60 days, a company plans to capture one ton of carbon dioxide daily from the county's waste-to-energy plant, which produces 600 tons of carbon dioxide a day.

Hillsborough County approved a carbon capture test program for its waste-to-energy plant, but clean energy advocates are calling it a distraction from real climate change solutions.

It was approved Wednesday in a 5-to-2 vote, with commissioners Pat Kemp and Harry Cohen dissenting.

Slide showing the agenda item and which commissioners voted "yes" and "no."
Hillsborough County
Video Screenshot

A South Korean climate tech company called LowCarbon will conduct the 60-day pilot project.

Carbon dioxide from an exhaust stack at the county's Resource Recovery Facility is planned to be converted to calcium carbonate powder, which can then be sold to make concrete and other construction products.

Though the project could reduce the county's carbon footprint, a handful of environmentalists spoke against it during a public comment period.

University of South Florida communications student Abby Schnittker, was one of them.

"These plants have still created massive amounts of uncaptured emissions, and no power plants attempting to use carbon capture and storage has achieved its goal,” said Schnittker.

Brooke Ward is with Food and Water Watch.

She's also part of the Hillsborough Affordable Energy Coalition, formerly known as the Hillsborough Rate Hikes Coalition.

Ward asked that the county not spend any further time or money extending this project past the 60-day pilot.

“It's a distraction from real solutions and frankly a gross waste of time and money,” Ward said.

While Hillsborough's waste-to-energy facility produces 600 tons of carbon dioxide daily as the county’s trash incinerator burns trash, the pilot project plans to capture just one ton a day — that's less than 2% of emissions.

If it's successful, commissioners have discussed scaling the project up to capture 40 tons a day — out of 600 tons, that's capturing just over 6% of emissions.

LowCarbon is footing the bill for the pilot project, but the county could end up paying between $248,000 and $12 million for the 40-ton unit, if commissioners decide to move forward with it.

At that point, if the county wants to go beyond the pilot, it would be an open request for proposals for qualified firms to build out the larger unit.

"This is not costing the county anything," said board chair Ken Hagan of the pilot project back at an April 3 meeting.

He first brought this proposal to commissioners in January.

"There is no risk. If successful, carbon emissions will be reduced, revenue will be generated ... In my time in office, to me, this is as close to a no brainer as I've ever seen," he said.

But commissioner Pat Kemp had concerns in that same April 3 meeting with there being no immediate evidence that this technology has been successful in the U.S.

"I'm not a person that runs out and buys the technology first of anything because the beta is not the thing that I aspire to," she said. "I have followed up and read about this ... I've seen too much of these companies that come forward with what are false solutions."

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.