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* Utilities say CCS technology too expensive
* Pull out of ZEP, which advises the European Commission on CCS
By Alister Doyle
OSLO, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Four European utilities have pulled out of a European project studying carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way to combat global warming, arguing the technology is too costly, a letter obtained by Reuters showed on Monday.
Germany's RWE AG, France's Electricite de France , Sweden's Vattenfall AB and Spain's Gas Natural Fenosa quit the Zero Emission Platform (ZEP), which advises the European Commission about CCS technologies.
"The utility group has decided to stop its engagement in the ZEP," according to the letter dated Jan. 12 to Graeme Sweeney, chair of the ZEP advisory council.
Set up a decade ago, the ZEP is a coalition of companies, scientists and environmental groups seeking ways to capture and bury heat-trapping carbon emissions mainly from the exhausts of coal, oil and gas-fired power plants.
But CCS has failed to live up to early hopes of wide adoption to slow climate change. After many years of research, Saskatchewan Power opened the world's first coal-fired power plant retrofitted with CCS in October.
"We currently do not have the necessary economic framework conditions in Europe to make CCS an attractive technology to invest in," the letter said. It added that CCS would play an important role cutting greenhouse gas emissions in future.
"It's a matter of regret ... but it also presents us with an opportunity to reinforce our membership," Sweeney, a former advisor to Shell, told Reuters. New members could include companies from energy intensive industries.
The letter said that the utilities had "restricted time and budget" and that ZEP had focused more and more on lobbying.
Norwegian environmental group Bellona accused the utilities of merely feigning interest in CCS.
"Utilities spent windfall profits on dividends instead of transforming their industry. This was the industry's lost opportunity for CCS," Frederic Hauge, head of Bellona and a ZEP vice-chair, told Reuters.
Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not support proposed payments to loss-making coal- and gas-fired power stations in Germany to help guarantee supply when there is a lull in variable wind or solar energy.
A report last year by the U.N. panel of climate scientists said the world would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the late 21st century to limit rising temperatures that are blamed for more floods, droughts and rising sea levels. (Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by Susan Thomas)