The Jim Bridger Power Plant in southwest Wyoming. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney recently joined a handful of other Congress members to advance the “Storing CO2 and Lowering Emissions Act.” Gov. Mark Gordon followed quickly with a letter to Congress offering his support for the so-called SCALE act. 

Some may find this action of Wyoming politicians encouraging. But let’s not hold our collective breath waiting for SCALE to make a dent in our current economic problems. 

I hate to be the dog in the manger just as many claim carbon capture technology might save coal and Wyoming’s economy. But to suggest to families in Kemmerer or Gillette who are worried about being able to stay in their homes until their kids graduate that SCALE will help them quickly enough to make a difference is cruelly misleading. 

First, the bill does not directly affect coal-fired plants, but instead aims to add infrastructure for transporting and then storing carbon emissions in the ground. That may seem promising, but coal fired plants play only one part of the carbon capture equation — and likely the least important part for SCALE. In fact, the word “coal” does not appear once in the 46-page bill. 

Cement and steel plants also emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and while we have alternatives to high-carbon electrical generation, such as wind and solar, we don’t have the same low-emission alternatives to making cement or steel. As a result, SCALE is likely to focus on providing infrastructure for those industries instead of coal-fired plants.

Second, SCALE offers us millions when we need billions. SCALE authorizes roughly $65 million per year for R&D, transportation, and storage infrastructure. That may seem like a lot of money, until you consider that the oil and gas industry spends twice that amount every year just entertaining Congress through lobbying efforts.

SCALE also authorizes $500 million per year for commercialization programs. That also needs to be put into perspective. I’m an owner of an oil and gas pipeline logistics company, and a reasonable estimate we use for building this type of pipeline is $75 per foot. That means a mere 100 miles of pipeline would cost $40 million. Which is why estimates to build the Keystone pipeline eventually added up to $8 billion. Five-hundred million per year wouldn’t likely go very far. 

Project Tundra, the only active carbon sequestration project in the country, has a price tag of $1.3 billion and will require an additional $3 billion in subsidies to be economically viable — and that’s only for a single plant. Just to keep up with current coal plant retirements would cost nearly $100 billion in construction and tax subsidies alone.

Third, the bill itself is unlikely to pass for years. That’s just how things work in Washington, D.C. 

There is also this consideration: Given the approval process for pipelines and how long such projects take to construct, building a national CO2 pipeline infrastructure would take at least a decade under the most promising assumptions — not much help for a Wyoming family worried about this month’s mortgage.

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Let’s also remember that building a pipeline and finding locations to store the CO2 is the easy part of carbon capture. The harder part is retrofitting coal plants with carbon capture technology. If Project Tundra in North Dakota gets off the ground, it’s expected to take a minimum of four years to build. But we’re in a race against time. In the four years it will take to bring Tundra’s 450 megawatts on-line, we’ll have retired 27,000 megawatts of existing coal capacity — the equivalent of 50 Project Tundras.

The SCALE Act may serve a useful purpose in our broader energy strategy. For that Rep. Cheney and Gov. Gordon should be applauded for their vision. But building out CO2 infrastructure is long-term stuff, and we can’t be allowed to believe that help is around the corner — we’ve been burned by that in the past and should know better.

Nothing contemplated in the “Storing CO2 and Lowering Emissions Act” will solve the emergency facing our state, and any effort to create false hope only allows us to postpone making hard decisions while our coal communities suffer. Let’s cheer on SCALE, while getting back to solving our local problems.

Dave Dodson

Dave Dodson lives in Wyoming and is a former CEO and professor at Stanford University. He was a Wyoming Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Read more from his archive at davedodson.com/news.

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4 Comments

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  1. With all the unwanted and unneeded coal plants shutting down in Wyoming and the rest of the country, that alone will reduce emissions in a significant way. Any little bit helps.

    1. While we are shutting down coal plants here, China, India and Africa are still building them. CO2 does not care where it is produced, so shutting our coal fired plants, especially ones that operate at the coal mouth of mines is frankly stupid.

      We really all live on this planet and while it is nice to think that the rest of the world will follow America’s lead, I would contend it is ludicrous thinking. The US needs a comprehensive energy discussion and policy, but shutting down our plants and then buying stuff produced by China with coal fired electricity is as dumb as it comes.

  2. Mr. Dodson
    What is just as frustrating is when we bring to Governor Gordon or his Energy Person Randal Luthi an alternate solution and they don’t even want to talk to us about it. We all see CCS and what it is and what it costs, but “they” all seem to think this is the only solution besides planting trees.
    In 2010 we realized what the Obama government was doing to the coal industry and we decided to try and find a solution and help the coal industry survive. We found a worldwide industry that in it’s purification process injected large volumes of CO2. We realized that this process could be remolded to absorb the CO2 out of combusted coal exhaust. This industry has been doing this for over 60 years and is still doing it today. This is what we developed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQRQ7S92_lo
    Carbon Capture Sequestration needs 30% of the power plants produced steam to “strip” the CO2 out of the pharmaceutical produced amine. This is energy that was supposed to be used to produce profit producing electricity. This process then requires 15% of the power plants produced electricity to cool and compress the CO2 into a liquid state so it can be pumped through a pipeline to a location where it will again be pumped deep into the earth.
    We developed the Sidel Carbon Capture Utilization System because we want these coal power plants to be profitable. Our process wants all the exhaust stream , so we can remove over 90% of all the CO2 that was produced. Our process turns the CO2 into good paying full time jobs and money.
    Why is this not a desirable thing for the State of Wyoming? We have been wanting to prove our technology at your Gillette Integrated Test Center.
    This CCU process will also be good for Wyoming agriculture. Thousands of acres of vegetable will have to be planted and harvested yearly. Each acre will absorb 114.5 tons of CO2 during the growing process.

    I look forward to receiving your comments.
    Give me a call if you want to discuss it on the phone.
    Have A Fantastic Day!
    Sid Abma
    http://www.SidelGlobal.com

  3. We need to learn from the mistakes by others. The Estevan, Saskatchewan carbon capture project was built, run, and shutdown after being operational for a significant period. When your neighbor can’t make a lead balloon fly, you can learn from their mistakes.