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Wyoming’s largest utility plans coal exit by 2039

The economics of renewables defy edicts by Wyoming. The state has several laws that are aimed at forcing utilities to either find buyers for coal plants scheduled for early retirement or extending their lives by adding carbon-capture-utilization-and storage technologies.

But Rocky Mountain Power, the state’s largest electrical utility, remains firm that it will completely exit coal in the state by 2039. The plans were reaffirmed in recently filings to state officials.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that the utility plans to retire its coal-fired capacity by more than 4,000 megawatts and its natural gas capacity by 1,554 megawatts by 2040.

Other than converting 2 of the Jim Bridger units (see photo above) to natural gas in 2024, PacifiCorp – the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power – plans to focus on renewable generation, battery storage, and an advanced nuclear proposal. The company says it expects to reduce emissions 74% by 2030 as compared to a 2005 baseline and 92% by 2040.

PacifiCorp has interests in the coal plants of northwestern Colorado.

The utility plans to add 3,600 megawatts of new wind and more than 5,600 megawatts of new solar, but also close to 6,700 megawatts of storage capacity, plus hundreds of miles of transmission. Also planned: a 500-megawatt advanced nuclear reactor at the site of one of Wyoming’s four soon-to-be-retired coal plans.


New Mexico tries to shake off its oil habit to improve air and knock down GHG emissions

Any discussion of New Mexico’s attempt to decarbonize its economy and improve its air quality inevitably must have hand-to-hand combat with this searing fact: 25% to 30% of the general fund revenues for the state’s budget come from oil and gas.

State officials were reminded of that fact again in a letter sent them after a new study was completed. The state wants to clean up its air, to meet federal ozone standards (a challenge similar to Colorado’s struggle along the Front Range). A proposed regulation would curb routine venting and flaring and would require 98% of gas capture. There would be additional reporting and monitoring through every component of extraction and distribution.

New Mexico has 55,000 active oil and gas wells, most in the Permian Basin on the state’s southeastern corner, or in the San Juan Basin in the northwestern corner.

A report commissioned by the state found that leaks or combustions associated with those wells, including production and transportation, were responsible for more than half of all greenhouse gases emitted in the state. Included in that tally are leaks associated with transportation and production, explains the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Now comes a study commissioned by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association that predicts compliance would cost operators $3.2 billion in the first year and $3.8 billion over five years. That study by John Dunham and Associates concluded the regulations would cause a 12.9% drop in oil production and a 22.8% reduction in natural gas production.

A report in May by legislative staffers noted that the state typically receives $2 billion in direct revenue from oil and gas production through severance and property taxes and royalty and rental income.

The New Mexican says that James Kenney, the state’s environment secretary, disputes the conclusions of the oil-and-gas industry’s study. He called the new study “deeply flawed” and pointed out that it was conducted and paid for by the community that is being regulated.

Kenney’s agency has an alternative figure of the cost of compliance: $467 million annually if the proposed rule is adopted without modifications.

“When compared to the publicly available revenue data for New Mexico’s oil and gas operators of $2.3 trillion, the cost of compliance is about 0.02%” wrote Maddy Hayden, the spokeswoman for the Environmental Department, in an e-mail to the newspaper.

The state has 55,000 active oil and gas wells. Applications have been made for 10,000 additional permits to drill on federal land. Most of the applications were filed in the final months of the Trump presidency.

If the BLM approves all those permits, and companies use them within their four-year maximum time limits, the number of working wells would increase by roughly 20%.

In New Mexico, the oil and gas sector produces the largest share of emissions, whereas in Colorado transportation has surpassed power production.

In an op/ed published in the New Mexican, Margaret Wadsworth of Food and Water Watch called for an end to $15 billion in subsidies for support of drilling, “which is exactly what we need to stop doing, as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned us in no uncertain terms.” She did not identify the sources of the subsidies.

New Mexico, she notes, is in a “peculiar and vulnerable position” because of its reliance on oil and gas revenues. “We’re told that if we want to fully fund social services and public schools, we must essentially root for the polluting industries that harm front-line communities, fuel climate change, and threaten our water supplies.”


Farmington makes case for hydrogen to DOE secretary

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited Farmington, N.M., in August, and local leaders made the case that federal dollars should find their way to San Juan County. They specifically want to be part of hydrogen research and production.

John Beckstead, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, said the county wants to serve as the country’s hydrogen center. The Farmington Times reported that Beckstead made the case based on existing infrastructure.

The region has two coal-fired power plants. While there’s a movement to save the San Juan Generating Station by using carbon sequestration, regional leaders said they realize that energy production is changing.

“We want to be part of that transition,” Beckstead said. Granholm listened but cautioned that the federal infrastructure bill that would provide funding has not yet been passed by Congress and, if the money is appropriated, the selection will be based on competitive criteria.

The pitch in northwestern New Mexico closely parallels one involving Northwestern Colorado, where Tri-State Generation & Transmission has applied to make the Craig Generating Statin the focus of hydrogen research and the recipient of federal funding.

See: “Will green hydrogen research at Craig be part of the answer to the big question?”

Also, Salt on the table at Hayden


Los Alamos researchers see hydrogen as fuel for trucks

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers are working to develop hydrogen fuel cells that they hope will eventually replace the diesel engines used for long-distance trucking.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the laboratory is part of a national consortium that includes several companies, universities, and national laboratories operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Researchers hope to create a fuel cell for trucks that will last about 30,000 driving hours, or roughly 1 million miles.

“Really, the time to get (hydrogen fuel) trucks out on the road is now,” said Rod Borup, lab scientist and fuel cell program manager.

He said that hydrogen is suited for heavy-duty trucks because they don’t require nearly as many fueling stations as the 350 million U.S. cars. Charging the battery of a truck powered by electricity would take a couple of hours, compared to minutes for hydrogen. Then again, batteries on long-haul trucks would add up to almost a third of the load, he said.

The New Mexican asked Travis Madsen, transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, his thoughts on hydrogen for trucks. He disagrees with the Los Alamos researchers.

“I think the math and practicality of it points to electricity,” he said. He pointed to the much lesser cost of electricity for fueling.


In Wyoming, conversations continue about an economy after fossil fuels extraction

The Casper Star-Tribune had another story about Wyoming’s economy beyond fossil fuels extraction, one of many as Wyoming finally starts to grapple with the end of coal. But there’s little new to be said.

This story has Wyoming experts saying that Wyoming needs to “identify its comparative advantage—the industry, or industries, that will bolster its economy in the future — and equip new and transitioning workers with the necessary tools.”

Many state leaders, the Star-Tribune notes, hope to turn Wyoming into a hub for emerging technologies that use existing fossil fuels in new ways. It cites carbon capture and blue hydrogen.

This, in turn, will likely require Wyoming to end its reliance upon severance tax and possible adopt a state income tax. Ironically, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was quoted as saying that maybe Colorado doesn’t need a state income tax.

Allen Best
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