Hillsborough County commissioners have approved a pilot program for carbon capture despite local environmental groups’ opposition. With a 5-2 vote, the proposal allows LowCarbon to build a facility to capture carbon dioxide emissions from the county’s waste-to-energy plant in Brandon.

Key Points of the Proposal

– Purpose: Capture 1 ton of carbon dioxide daily from the waste-to-energy plant.

– Technology: Carbon capture to convert CO2 into calcium carbonate, a potentially profitable byproduct used in construction.

– Cost: No cost to the county for the pilot; potential revenue generation if the pilot succeeds.

– Government Support: Gov. Ron DeSantis has backed the project, which fits within a broader trend of government incentives for carbon capture technology.

Technological and Economic Implications

Carbon capture technology is seen as a promising but emerging field in the fight against climate change. The primary goal of the LowCarbon facility is to capture 1 ton of carbon dioxide daily, a small fraction of the 600 tons emitted daily by the plant. The captured CO2 will be converted into calcium carbonate in concrete and construction industries. This pilot aims to test this conversion process’s economic viability and efficiency.

The county’s public utilities administrator, George Cassady, expressed cautious optimism about the pilot’s success. If successful, the pilot could provide valuable insights into the feasibility of a larger, permanent facility. However, the initial pilot will not generate revenue for the county. Instead, LowCarbon must sell the calcium carbonate and report the receipts to the county to assess the product’s market value.

Potential Long-Term Benefits and Costs

A significant draw for the commissioners is the potential for future revenue from a permanent carbon capture facility. In the initial proposal for a permanent facility, LowCarbon offered to share profits from the sale of calcium carbonate with the county. However, the county staff initially rejected this proposal due to its high cost—nearly $25 million for capturing 40 tons of CO2 daily. A revised proposal suggests building a facility capable of capturing between 100 and 400 tons of CO2, which will be considered if the pilot proves successful.

Opposition and Concerns

Commissioner Pat Kemp, who voted against the pilot, and local environmental groups have voiced strong opposition. They argue that resources would be better spent on affordable housing or transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar power. Kemp highlighted the potential future costs, questioning the allocation of significant funds towards a carbon capture facility when other pressing needs exist.

Brooke Ward, senior Florida Food & Water Watch organizer, expressed concerns during public comments. She argued that carbon capture technology is a distraction from real solutions and a gross misuse of time and money. Ward and other environmental advocates believe focusing on renewable energy transitions is a more effective way to address climate change.

Public and Political Reactions

The public reaction has been mixed. While some see the pilot as an innovative step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, others view it as a diversion from more effective environmental strategies. The strong opposition of the local environmental groups underscores the contentious nature of this initiative.

During public comment, Ward emphasized the hope that the pilot would reveal itself as a failed project, preventing the county from investing further in what she described as a flawed technology. This skepticism reflects broader concerns about carbon capture technology’s efficacy and economic viability.

Next Steps

– Pilot Phase: Over the next 60 days, LowCarbon will operate the pilot facility, capturing CO2 and converting it to calcium carbonate. They will sell this byproduct and report the sales receipts to the county.

– Evaluation: The pilot’s success will be evaluated based on the technology’s performance and the economic viability of the calcium carbonate byproduct.

Decision Point: At the end of the pilot phase, commissioners will decide whether to move forward with a larger, permanent facility. This decision will involve opening bids to LowCarbon and other companies.

– Future Considerations: The pilot’s outcomes will significantly influence future county carbon capture technology investments. If successful, it could pave the way for a more extensive implementation of carbon capture solutions.

The approval of this pilot program marks a significant yet controversial step towards addressing carbon emissions in Hillsborough County. The following 60 days will be crucial in determining this technology’s feasibility and potential benefits. Both supporters and opponents of the pilot will be closely watching its progress and outcomes, as these will shape the county’s environmental strategy moving forward.