Sophia Bollag/Medill WASHINGTON – Technology designed to cut carbon emissions in coal-fired power plants is currently too costly for practical use across the country, Energy Department officials said Tuesday.

Carbon capture and storage techniques – known as CCS technologies – will initially result in a “70 to 80 percent increase on the wholesale price of electricity” from plants retrofitted with the new technology, said Julio Friedmann, deputy assistant secretary for the agency’s clean coal programs.

The Energy Department is working to reduce those costs, Friedmann said at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. The department plans to develop a second generation of clean coal technologies sometime after 2020 that will significantly reduce the additional cost of carbon capture techniques, he said.

Although the first-stage of CCS technologies is commercially available today, Friedmann said he didn’t anticipate widespread commercial use until after 2020.

However, to “dramatically reduce” carbon dioxide emissions, CCS techniques are going to be needed, he said.

“It’s a technology which we simply need to have,” he said.

Republican lawmakers at the hearing emphasized the importance of congressional oversight of the $7.6 billion allotted for the Department of Energy’s clean coal programs. Several questioned whether the technology now being used has been tested enough to guarantee its effectiveness and safety.

Democrats at the hearing defended the funding of the programs, saying President Barack Obama made the right choice in focusing on clean coal technology as a key part of his energy agenda.

“There is a long history of government investment driving private sector technological advances,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “The president and the [Energy Secretary Ernest] Moniz have made the right choice: invest in CCS.”