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WY Threatens $1.2M Suit for Coal Production

Thursday, May 6, 2021

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Unlike other states pushing to convert to renewable energy infrastructure, Wyoming has announced its intentions to sue other states blocking its exports of coal—an issue that’s resulting in the shut down of its coal-fired power plants.

At the beginning of April, Republican Gov. Mark Gordon created a $1.2 million fund for the new program. The initiative is reported to be the latest attempt by state leaders to help coal in Wyoming that accounts for the bulk of U.S. coal production, which is down by half since 2008.

“Wyoming is sending a message that it is prepared to bring litigation to protect her interests,” Gordon spokesperson Michael Pearlman said of the fund signed into law April 6.

Coal Law

Focusing mostly on Colorado and other West Coast states seeking to convert a large share of its electricity to renewable resources, the states will still however, must receive some energy from Wyoming-based coal-fired power plants.

The litigation fund follows a 2020 bill which established $1 million for the promotion of Wyoming coal. Through this fund, the state is paying a nonprofit, the Energy Policy Network, $250,000 a year from the fund to contest plans in other states to shut down coal-fired power.

PhilAugustvo / Getty Images

Unlike other states pushing to covert to renewable energy infrastructure, Wyoming has announced its intentions to sue other states blocking its exports of coal—an issue that’s resulting in the shut down of its coal-fired power plants.

“I will not waver in my efforts to protect our industries, particularly our coal industry. The use of coal is under assault from all directions. And we have stood firm in our support of it throughout,” Gordon said in his state of the state address in March.

Gordon continued to explain that Wyoming is actually carbon negative, in that it captures more of the greenhouse gas than it emits through its variety of investments into technology and infrastructure capable of trapping carbon dioxide at power plants and keeping the toxic gas out of the atmosphere.

Accounting to about 40% of the nation’s total coal-powered energy, Wyoming’s coal production has been declining since 2008 when utilities began converting to gas—a cheaper alternative in generating electricity. With solar and wind power renewables also on the rise, coal’s share of the U.S. power market has shrunk to less than 20%.

Should a lawsuit be created in wake of the latest legislation, reports indicate that the case would go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, should the justices agree to hear them. At this time, Pearlman said that the Supreme Court hasn’t decided yet if it would hear the case, but the new legal fund approved resoundingly by the Wyoming Legislature and overseen by Gordon could help cover the cost of that litigation.

Just last year, Wyoming and Montana requested that the Court override a decision by Washington state to deny a permit to build a coal export dock on the Columbia River. The interstate lawsuit followed years of unsuccessful attempts by the dock’s developer, Utah-based Lighthouse Resources, to contest the permit denial in federal court.

That December, Lighthouse Resources filed for bankruptcy, further setting back the coal dock proposal.

While Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti has stated that the association will support all efforts to protect and defend the dwindling industry, University of Maryland environmental law professor Robert Percival argues that the fight for coal could become a waste of money.

According to Percival, while the Constitution’s Commerce Clause prohibits states from barring goods and services based on their state of origin, states are actually free to regulate or outright prohibit certain goods and services—including coal and coal-fired electricity—so long as they don’t specifically target other states.

Although more studies would need to be conducted to identify possible targets of the new Wyoming litigation, it has already been reported that Portland-based utility PacifiCorp intends to reduce its coal-fired generation by two-thirds by 2030—partly by retiring generators at two southwestern Wyoming power plants starting in 2023—as much as five years sooner than envisioned just a few years ago.

The utility company services California, Oregon, Utah and Washington (all having renewable energy standards or goals).

PacifiCorp has been meeting renewable standards by getting electricity from the lowest cost and least risky sources like it has always done, so the standards haven’t factored into its decisions to retire coal-fired power, company spokesman David Eskelsen said.

Executive Director Shawn Taylor added that PacifiCorp has no position on the legal fund, but the Wyoming Rural Electric Association supports the message it sends.

“It’s just kind of part and parcel of folks feeling that states and state agencies and entities outside Wyoming are having more of an impact on our energy resources than we do,” Taylor said.

Coal Transition

Although Wyoming is still fighting for the coal industry, over the past year many other companies and states have pledged to convert to renewable energy resources.

In November 2020, engineering and construction company Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kansas) announced that it would be ceasing participation in any further coal-based power design and construction. The announcement arrived after a decade of increasing the company’s focus on advancing renewable energy and energy storage technologies, as well as furthering the deployment of hydrogen as a carbon-free fuel and advanced technologies for carbon capture.

Regarding its decision, Black & Veatch reported that it would still continue to fulfill its current project commitments, which were slated to reach completion throughout the following months, but also planned to support its clients through their own transitions and decarbonization and sustainability goals to a balanced energy portfolio with cleaner energy sources.

In 2019, global coating supplier Hempel announced that it had joined the Getting to Zero Coalition, a strategy adopted by the International Maritime Organization to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developed in 2018, the plan involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with shipping by at least 50% by 2050, in comparison with 2008 levels.

To reach its 2030 goal, the Getting to Zero Coalition also plans to work with individuals from maritime, energy and other related industries, along with academics and policy makers. The collection of efforts intends to identify the proper technology, investments, infrastructure and actions needed to get ZEVs in full operation.

By December, clean energy company Heliogen announced that it had concentrated solar energy to exceed temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius, claiming that it could use the technology to replace the use of fossil fuels for industrial purposes, such as the production of cement, steel and petrochemicals.

Heliogen, with its team of scientists and engineers, is working with Parsons Corporation, which is involved in the defense, intelligence and critical infrastructure markets. The firm says it was able to achieve this through its computer vision software to “to hyper-accurately align a large array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target.”

And in March 2020, global coatings company AkzoNobel released what it’s calling “the first in a series of ambitions” that are looking at the company’s fresh focus on achieving zero waste and cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030.

The company is currently on track to have zero waste to landfill by the end of 2020, while renewable electricity is already in use at 33 locations and eight countries. Solar panels have also been installed at 14 locations, and the company has reduced its waste by 40% in the last eight years, while total VOC emissions fell by 24% in 2019.

In October, Long Ridge Energy Terminal (Hannibal, Ohio) announced plans to convert its 485-megawatt combined-cycle power plant to run on carbon-free hydrogen. The transition is being conducted in collaboration with New Fortress Energy and GE Power.

At the time of the announcement, Long Ridge reported that it has engaged engineering firm Black & Veatch to assist with developing plans for the plant integration for hydrogen blending and to ensure safe and reliable industrial practices.

Additionally, Long Ridge will also be teaming with NFE’s new division, Zero, which is focused on investing and deploying emerging hydrogen production technologies to meet zero emissions targets. NFE’s Zero division will support Long Ridge’s carbon-free power transition as it scales up novel technologies that can produce low-cost hydrogen.

Using the GE 7HA.02 combustion turbine, the plant will be able to burn between 15-20% hydrogen by volume in the gas stream initially but will have the capability to transition to 100% hydrogen over time.

Once the plant has transitioned, Long Ridge notes that it has access to nearby industrial byproduct hydrogen for initial testing, in addition to access to water from the Ohio River when the production of green hydrogen with electrolysis intends to begin. Over time, below ground salt formations will also be able to be used for large-scale hydrogen storage.


Tagged categories: Carbon dioxide; Carbon footprint; Coal ash; Energy codes; Environmental Controls; Government; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Power; Power; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Project Management

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/6/2021, 9:16 AM)

Wyoming has some truly excellent wind resources. Unfortunately they seem unwilling to develop them. Note that is an 80 meter map, resources get better as the hubs get higher - 80 meters is at the low end for a current new build project. Modern turbines can reach 140 meter hub heights.

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