BRUSSELS Europe's energy chief gave his backing on Monday to a source of billions of euros of public funding for power stations to trap and bury carbon dioxide in the battle against climate change.
New technology to trap CO2 and pump it underground is seen as a potential silver bullet to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, which are multiplying rapidly worldwide and threaten to heat the atmosphere to dangerous levels.
But while the technology exists, utilities are reluctant to build Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) power stations without public funding because it adds about 1 billion euros to the cost of each plant and reduces their output.
Environmentalists are split on whether CCS is a necessary evil to keep greenhouse gas emissions below dangerous levels.
The EU wants up to 12 demonstration plants by 2015. Two EU lawmakers, Chris Davies and Avril Doyle, have proposed using about 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) of funds from the EU's flagship Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) to get the project up and running.
"The Commission will be sending a positive signal regarding the so-called Doyle-Davies amendment," European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told a conference of CCS experts on Monday.
"The amendment can offer means of helping all new low-carbon technologies demonstrations, including early CCS projects," he added.
Piebalgs said any mechanism would have to avoid impacting the ETS, which is managed by the European Commission's environment directorate.
The directorate has previously opposed the idea of funding CCS from the New Entrants Reserve of the ETS, a pool of allowances set aside for new installations joining the scheme.
Analysts say the reserve could be worth 18 billion euros.
Piebalgs said any mechanism would have to avoid raising the ETS cap, must avoid windfall profits to industry, be temporary and fall within EU state aid rules.
(Reporting by Pete Harrison)