Wyoming opens the door to having carbon capture installed on coal-fired plants with the aim of prolonging their existence. The Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon has helped realize a deal with PacifiCorp to keep Unit 2 of Jim Bridger Coal Power Plant operational past April 30.
According to the Governor’s office, the coal-powered plant plans conversion of Jim Bridger Units 1 and 2 from coal to gas. The conversion might take two years and it is important to note that both units will continue to be operational during that time, despite adding to the state’s carbon footprint.
The coal power plant is out of compliance with required pollution control from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Rocky Mountain Power that operates it, has previously attempted to negotiate an exemption from the requirements. But before the negotiations were finalized, a new administration took over. Gordon issued a suspension on Dec. 31, 2021 for Unit 2 of the plant that should operate only until April 30, 2022.
However, the state and utility believe they have come up with a new plan that satisfies EPA and keeps the coal power plant going on for even longer. Instead of installing pollution controls in accordance with the Clean Air Act, PacifiCorp – owner of Rocky Mountain Power, would convert units 1 and 2 in the next two years to natural gas. The process would require some plant workers to change jobs but isn’t expected to cause any layoffs.
A proposal will also be issued for adding carbon capture, utilization and storage technology to Bridger units 3 and/or 4. Unit 3 is expected to continue operating through 2037, and unit 4 is currently scheduled to retire in 2027.
Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners’ group that has challenged the state’s proposed changes, expressed her concerns: “There will never be carbon capture at Jim Bridger 3 and 4 — there just won’t… There’s no need to save Bridger 3 and 4. And the economics are going to be better for that plant if carbon capture isn’t installed. Carbon capture is going to make the economics worse and make it actually more likely that there would be a need for early retirement.”
Wyoming also pressured PacifiCorp by suing the utility to make sure it converts both units as soon as the necessary infrastructure is in place – to prove that its new plan is more than an empty promise.
Mrs Anderson also added that converting the plants from coal to gas will lower their greenhouse gas emissions. However, she also called it “political theater,” accompanied by “faux enforcement action.”
EPA added a statement to the developments but took more of a natural stance. “We are encouraged by this development and Wyoming’s and PacifiCorp’s agreement to include these commitments in a revised (state implementation plan)… Administrator Regan appreciates the State’s efforts and the constructive dialogue with Governor Gordon,” said Rich Mylott, the agency’s regional public affairs specialist.
The example of the coal fired power plant in Wyoming is one of many that presents evidence of the carbon capture technology being used in a potentially uneconomical and non environmentally friendly way for the sake of saving the coal industry from the inevitable demise. While efforts from coal producers continue towards saving the industry, coal plants continue to operate at a loss and on the back of government subsidies and higher energy bills paid by taxpayers.