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Wyoming governor frames carbon capture as a way to keep coal relevant

The Colstrip coal-fired power plant in October 2020.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio/File photo
The Colstrip coal-fired power plant in October 2020.

Wyoming’s largest electric utility is taking an exploratory step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions at power plants using carbon capture.

It’s been in discussion in both Wyoming and Montana as a way to keep coal combustion going.

Rocky Mountain Power announced Friday it would be teaming up with a South Korean company and a clean energy technology developer to see if they can convert carbon emissions from coal into fuel in Wyoming.

Carbon capture technologies in the energy industry use emissions from fossil fuels and turn them into a usable product - for instance, fuel for turbines.

Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson David Eskelsen said they will be looking at potentially retrofitting two coal power plants in northeast and central Wyoming with the technology.

“We do have hope that it will be economically viable,” Eskelsen said.

Bringing carbon capture to Wyoming has been a key component of Governor Mark Gordon’s energy agenda.

“Wyoming has spent quite a bit of time trying to make sure that this technology has a future that is commercial and that makes for affordable power that’s reliable,” Gov. Gordon said.

The state of Wyoming passed legislation in 2020 that incentivizes carbon capture and calls for utilities to derive a certain percentage of their portfolio from low-carbon electricity, including through techniques like carbon capture technology.

Governor Gordon said carbon capture strikes a balance between environmental concerns and keeping coal fired generation in Wyoming: “I think carbon capture is the way that it remains relevant in a time when people are much more concerned about carbon.”

Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson David Eskelsen said a feasibility study will take several years to complete. He said more cost information will be provided down the road. According to the legislation Wyoming passed in 2020, utilities can apply to recoup costs for carbon capture technologies from its customer fees.

Rocky Mountain Power is part of Pacificorp, one of the owners of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant in southeastern Montana. Two of the plant’s four units closed in 2020, and carbon capture has long been in the discussion as a path forward. Montana’s largest utility, NorthWestern Energy, plans to exit the plant by 2042.

A Department of Energy study in 2018 found that capturing 63 percent of carbon at the plant would cost more than $1 billion dollars and $100 million annually in operating costs.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.