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The case made that Wyoming been desperate to continue use of coal

The desperation of lawmakers in Wyoming to save the coal economy was highlighted in an op-ed by Lander resident Greg Findley in the Casper Star-Tribune. He pointed out that in 2019 legislators passed a law that required public utilities planning to retire old and uneconomical coal units in Wyoming to first attempt to sell them.

“If this sounds like government interference in the private sector, it is,” he writes. “But in 2020, government overreach got worse.”

That year, legislators passed a “coal standard” that required utilities to add carbon capture technologies onto coal plants before recovering the costs of investments in renewables.

Wildly uneconomical, Findley charges, citing a report by Rocky Mountain Power, the PacifiCorp subsidiary that is the largest utility in Wyoming. That utility’s modeling found that “reasonable capital costs for carbon capture would need to come down at least 33%, or revenue for captured carbon dioxide would need to increase by at least 84%, to achieve break-even economics.”

Wyoming’s Public Service Commission, he added, has produced draft rules that say utility companies can avoid installing carbon capture technology if they can prove it is not economically feasible.


Nuclear engineer warns against cost of nuclear ambitions in Wyoming

An advocacy group for what is called next-generation nuclear technology has issued a report that contrasts the proposal in Wyoming with other nuclear reactors in other locations. But an engineer from California who has a PH.D. in nuclear fusion warns against thinking that nuclear energy can hold its own financially.

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance issued the report as an introduction and guide to next-generation nuclear for state policy markets, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The Wyoming modular nuclear power facility would be at the Davey Johnston coal-fired power plant, between Douglas and Casper. It is proposed by TerraPower, a company co-founded by Bill Gates, Rocky Mountain Power, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The report contrasts the plans in Wyoming with a proposal for four 80-megawatt modular reactors in Washington state, one in Puerto Rico; and a plan coordinated by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to build six 77-megawatt modular reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2030.

Unlike conventional nuclear plants, which nearly always operate at full capacity, the three proposed projects would be designed to have more flexibility. Wyoming’s reactor would store excess energy using molten salt, enabling it to ramp from 345 to 500 megawatts for 5.5 hours. Wyoming’s plant is designed to reroute surplus electricity toward alternative uses, such as hydrogen production.

Writing from California, Arjun Makhijani warns against Wyoming getting excited about the multi-billion-dollar demonstration nuclear power plant.

“The long history of similar nuclear reactors, dating back to 1951, indicates that Wyoming is likely to be left with a nuclear lemon on its hands,” said Makhijani, the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

He singles out the proposed use of molten salt as a coolant, which is likely to be problematic, as it has been at a nuclear reactor in France. The design will be “even more expensive than practically every other form of electricity generation.”

Of course, he concluded, the nuclear reactor proposed in Wyoming “might be made into lemonade by converting it to an amusement park if it is never switched on, like the Kalkar reactor, now refashioned into Wunderland Kalkar, an amusement park in Germany, near the border with the Netherlands.”

He didn’t explain why he got a Ph.D. in nuclear fusion.

Allen Best
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