As Colorado shifts from coal to renewables, neighboring Wyoming is investing in research and technology that officials hope will preserve its coal industry while meeting carbon reduction targets.

In 2014, the Wyoming legislature allocated $ 15 million to build a research center to test technologies for carbon capture, use and sequestration.

The credit demanded the private sector to commit an additional $ 5 million, paid for by the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which serves more than one million consumers in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and New Brunswick. Mexico. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has pledged an additional $ 1 million.

In 2017, construction began on the Wyoming Integrated Test Center at the Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Dry Fork station near Gillette. The center officially opened in May 2018.

The facility provides live flue gases at a realistic pilot plant level that researchers use to test and quantify post-combustion carbon capture technologies.

Wyoming takes seriously the preservation of its coal industry, which provides a large portion of the state’s tax revenue and jobs. One of the research centre’s goals, according to the centre’s website, is for Wyoming to find technology that can be deployed to “help support jobs, local and national economies, and keep electricity prices low for the future. millions of people around the world “.

“While we started construction in 2017, the story goes back a few years ago, to 2014, when the state of Wyoming was reviewing the (federal) clean energy plan and some of the regulations emanating from Washington, DC, and was wondering how do we move forward to make sure that there is technology available to actually preserve the assets and the coal industry in Wyoming, ”said Jason Begger, executive director of the center.

He added: “For a government sponsored project like this, things have moved very quickly.”

Over the past two years, COVID-19 has disrupted the centre’s testing programs.

“It’s been pretty quiet for the past two years, but we’ve had four different projects on the site,” Begger said.

The technology being developed at the center is afterburner, “which means equipment is bolted to the back of an industrial plant to capture (carbon dioxide),” Begger said.

This makes the technology applicable to many installations which emit hot gases containing carbon dioxide.

“What is tested in this coal-fired plant could ultimately be used in a natural gas plant, or even more importantly, in things like steel smelters or cement factories. … Any sort of major industrial facility could ultimately be an industry of interest for this technology, ”Begger said.

This also applies to the kind of fast-dispensing natural gas generators that Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said may be needed over the next decade to replace the “corporate generation” resources that the company said. administration of Governor Jared Polis is. close in Colorado.

During an online forum last month, Toor was asked if his agency would oppose the use of carbon capture technology if it can make power plants carbon neutral, especially if it helps spare coal towns from the social and economic costs of closing their power stations.

“We do not agree with the claim that capturing carbon in coal-fired power plants would either reduce emissions further or be a cost-effective way to move forward,” Toor said. . “We see very important roles for carbon capture in the future, but using carbon capture to extend the life of existing coal-fired power plants in Colorado is not something the agencies are doing. ‘State argue. “

Begger pointed out that coal-fired power plants are more reliable than renewables or natural gas in part because they can store fuel reserves that help insulate taxpayers from rapid fluctuations in the price of natural gas in the market and to ensure a constant and predictable supply of fuel for the electricity generation.

“The national average is around two months of supply. I know a lot of utilities like to have a minimum of 30 days, even 60 days of field supply, ”Begger said.

The volatility of natural gas prices is a significant problem and can change the economic balance between natural gas, renewables and coal very quickly, as supply can be easily diverted in real time depending on demand. This is less the case with coal thanks to the relatively slow and cumbersome task of shipping and storage which amortizes prices in the short term.

“Over the past few months we’ve seen a US coal spot market peak in a way they haven’t seen in over a decade,” Begger said. “The spot price of coal has more than tripled because utilities are trying to get enough coal to get through the winter, as natural gas is now close to $ 6.”

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, spot prices for natural gas during the deep polar vortex freeze in February fell from $ 2.87 per million BTU to $ 23.86 per million BTU, which cost Xcel Energy $ 1.2 billion billed to taxpayers.

The price of coal already stored in power plants during the four-day crisis, which killed hundreds in Texas, has not changed since it was purchased before the freeze.

“I think that as a society we need to honestly consider the pros and cons of all sources of energy. Coal certainly has a large carbon footprint, ”Begger said. “There are environmental concerns and considerations, but the reason it’s been used for over a hundred years is because it’s really inexpensive. It is very reliable. You can store it on site. We seem to have lost sight of all the benefits of a coal-fired power plant, and those benefits are still there. “

And if concerns about carbon emissions can be allayed, Begger said there was no reason not to preserve the infrastructure, industries and communities that serve these factories.

“I think if we’re going to be really honest about decarbonization, you can’t do it without that reliability,” Begger said. “We should look at all sources, all opportunities and keep an eye on the price. But it should be carbon that is the enemy here, not one particular fuel source. I think this is really very dangerous, in an age when energy prices are rising and when we have a very unstable grid, we are talking about completely removing one of the most reliable and well-known sources of energy.

About The Author

Related Posts