PacifiCorp’s Dave Johnston coal-fired power plant just outside Glenrock is slated for retirement but proponents of carbon capture technology suggest a conversion could extend the life of one unit. (Dustin Bleizeffer)

Gov. Mark Gordon and the Legislature apparently believe Wyoming’s electricity customers are all chumps.


What other conclusion is possible, given their push to prop up the dying coal industry by retrofitting the state’s coal-fired power plants with wildly expensive, efficiency-killing carbon-capture systems by 2030?

PacifiCorp, which operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming, said last month it would cost between $400 million and $1 billion for each coal power plant unit to add carbon capture utilization and storage technology. A law passed in 2020 required the company to analyze the feasibility of such a move. The same measure spelled out who gets to foot the bill — PacifiCorp’s roughly 140,000 Wyoming customers.

It’s already uneconomical and environmentally irresponsible to keep burning coal for electricity generation, no matter how much tax revenue it brings to Wyoming. It’s killing our planet.

That’s why PacifiCorp announced plans in 2019 to close six coal-fired units at Wyoming plants within 10 years and rely instead on natural gas, cheaper renewables like wind and solar and new, experimental nuclear technology.

Lawmakers in 2020 passed House Bill 200 – Reliable and dispatchable low-carbon energy standards, which established brand new standards that — surprise! — can only be met by coal-burning plants utilizing carbon capture utilization and storage. Unless a company can prove the technology is not economically feasible, it cannot bill rate payers to recoup its capital investments in alternative power sources like carbon-free solar and wind energy.

The nonprofit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis warned before the new law was approved that it was a boondoggle. If the price tag of a CCUS retrofit is $1 billion, PacifiCorp’s 140,000 Wyoming customers must split the tab.

“[That’s] essentially imposing a tax of more than $7,000 per customer,” the IEEFA said. “In a state that doesn’t even have an income tax, we believe the proposal would generate massive public opposition.”

But it didn’t. House Bill 200 was approved by about a 2-to-1 margin in the House and Senate. Gordon, like his GOP predecessor, Matt Mead, has relentlessly pushed CCUS to “save” coal. The governor told the Wyoming Press Association in February he believes “we have the best chance of addressing climate change by doing something with carbon capture and sequestration.”

Gordon’s faith in CCUS should be shaken by the fact that Petra Nova in Texas —  the technology’s flagship project —  flopped on a grand scale. 

The project, which was expected to earn a profit through selling CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, cost $1 billion in 2017. It was mothballed three years later when oil prices tanked.

Congress spent $1.1 billion a decade ago on eight CCUS research projects to reduce pollution. According to a Government Accountability Office report earlier this year, none of the “clean-coal” projects are operating.

IEEFA called HB 200 “part of a carbon-capture-experiment racket that has existed for years in [Wyoming], at taxpayer expense, but has nothing to show for it.” 

Black Hills Corp noted in its Wyoming Public Service Commission filing in March that retrofitting two of its Gillette plants could result in rate hikes as high as $100 per month.

But because the PSC capped CCUS-driven rate hikes at 2%, Black Hills, Cheyenne Light, PacifiCorp and other utilities would have to spread out the charges over decades. Customers would be stuck paying higher rates far past the expected 30-year lifespan of a CCUS plant.

House Bill 200 was sold as a way to keep Wyoming’s coal plants operating while boosting state tax revenue, and shifting most of the cost of the bailout elsewhere. “We can export that tax burden to people in other states,” predicted Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), the bill’s sponsor.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? The idea reminds me of another plan a few years ago to transport Powder River Basin coal by rail to a Washington state coal export terminal. Our coal would be shipped to China, and Wyoming’s coal mines would be saved.

Except Washington didn’t buy it for a minute, the company planning to build the terminal went bankrupt, and all Wyoming lawmakers could do is allocate millions of dollars to sue Washington for allegedly violating the U.S. Commerce Clause. The project is dead in the water.

Exporting our cost of CCUS equipment to the 1.8 million customers in the other five PacifiCorp states also sounds ideal for Wyoming, but it won’t happen. Why would any state regulators — especially in Oregon, Washington and California, which have solid commitments to move toward carbon-free emissions — tell PacifiCorp’s ratepayers they must share in Wyoming’s costs?

Reducing carbon emissions through CCUS would eliminate some pollution, but the move can hardly be classified as “green,” no matter how much Gordon and other HB 200 backers would like it to be.

There are even more reasons for Wyoming ratepayers to be upset with this fiasco. CCUS could significantly reduce electrical generation efficiency at plants, making it even more expensive.

The three units PacifiCorp has identified as its best prospects for CCUS conversion — two near Rock Springs and one near Glenrock — could sell carbon dioxide captured by the projects to companies for enhanced oil recovery, or to create new CO2 byproducts like synthetic jet fuel.

But those sales won’t help Wyoming ratepayers, because regulated utilities typically can’t include such factors outside their scope of services in setting rates. Where would the extra revenue go? To PacifiCorp stockholders, of course. 

The companies could reduce costs by using federal tax credits, which would provide $50 per ton for captured and stored carbon, or carbon that is used in enhanced oil recovery projects. But to qualify, projects must begin construction by 2026. The companies probably won’t be able to jump through all the state regulatory hoops to start building by then.

Now, this is truly ironic: a proposal to increase the federal tax credit to $85 per ton is in President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. It’s been blocked by Senate Republicans, including Wyoming’s coal-friendly John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, plus the chamber’s biggest defender of coal mines (especially the ones he owns) — Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

House Bill 200 lets Wyoming utilities off the hook if they can prove CCUS retrofitting isn’t economically feasible. Anyone who spends more than a minute examining the data should come to that conclusion.

If companies ultimately can walk away from the law’s outrageous $1 billion cost to ratepayers, it’s no harm, no foul, right? It seems the only thing customers would lose is some sleep worrying about it.

Uh, not exactly. PacifiCorp asked the PSC to grant a 0.5% surcharge on its rates, to raise $3.5 million from customers to help pay for its legislatively mandated feasibility studies. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Black Hills Corp hasn’t requested a surcharge, but it must complete the mandated feasibility study for its two potential CCUS plants. Reducing CO2 emissions by converting coal to natural gas, the company’s preferred method, would cost only 5% as much as CCUS retrofitting.

That ought to be enough to sink the idea once and for all — or until our elected officials find more ways to foist CCUS on Wyoming ratepayers, who still aren’t riled up enough yet to make this a major issue this election year.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Follow the bouncing ball (in this case the 1 billion bucks) and it usually ends up providing a nice financial windfall for legislative friends, family, consultants, attorneys, and large construction firms. The utility customer gets zilch for the inevitable rate increase.

  2. The last coal fired steam locomotive manufactured in North America was built in 1953. By 1960 no coal train in this country would ever again trundle from coalfield to powerplant powered by the same antiquated and filthy fuel that its own cars contained. It is long past time to apply the same forward thinking to electrical generation. The most efficient way to sequester carbon is to simply leave those dirty little rocks buried in the earth where they belong.

  3. Good article and it made me research Carbon Capture on my own. It is a joke and I don’t want to my money to go to it.
    Many times I wonder if our legislators in Wyoming are the most incompetent in the country. Last I checked the ones in Florida are still the bottom of the barrel but we get close. We need to change the way we manufacture electricity and we need to start charging more to the states that use and abuse Wyoming energy.

    We need to stop counting on the government to solve all our problems.

    We need to stop using so much energy.

    We don’t need carbon capture we need people to wake up.
    I saw a bumper sticker on one of those big Diesel guzzling pick up trucks. It read: Driving fast and sucking gas. In his case diesel. Then I saw a sign that diesel was over 5 bucks a gallon. I laughed and then almost cried

    I was around when we had to wait in lines for gas and PSA’s told us to turn thermostats down to 68 in the winter. 66 at night. We needed to drive 55.

    As far as carbon capture it is a waste of money for minimal results. The biggest problem with carbon capture is transportation and storage.

    They say inject C02 back into the ground. Putting stuff back in the ground has not worked for Oklahoma.

    People need to start saving energy at home and at work and all places in between. The Government can help but we the people are the solution.

    I am far from perfect ,but I do the following things and need to do them better.

    1. I don’t drive like an idiot and I am not in a hurry to get places. So many people in Cheyenne think it is a race to get anywhere.

    2. I plan my trips an errands so I don’t have to go out multiple times in a day or a week. If I am a drive thru I turn off my car while I am waiting.

    3. My outside lights are solar. Yes I know it causes pollution to make the lights but I have weighed the benefits. They are greater

    4. I am having solar power installed at my house. I know many people can afford solar. However, it is my contribution to save a very very small part of the Earth. If our coal friends in the legislature would pass some laws to favor solar or wind for individuals in Wyoming that would help. Oh wait that may cause them votes

    5. I recycle. In most cases it cost less money to recycle products than it does to produce them

    6. I plant several new trees a year. They are small trees and don’t cost much.

    There are many more thing you can do to save energy.
    Share them if you like but don’t just sit there and do nothing

    1. Great comment. I made similar points on recent articles but the comment fairy would not print them. Our electric bill is $55 a month. Our thermostat is at 59 degrees in winter and 80 in the summer. We drive an economy car once a week at most. We also limit our water consumption because we had lived with drought for decades in California. Pioneer Spirit. Stop pretending we are water fat and power fat. We are living through a decline of civilization, in my opinion. Deal with it.

  4. I have to say, being in agreement with Kerry is an uncomfortable place for a wise person to be. Fortunately, my opinion only partially agrees with his. I will not pay triple my current electric bill for a boondoggle to please, in my opinion, scientifically illiterate fools. Whether it be a graph in the form of a hockey stick that was proven to be utterly fake, or the ridiculous assertion that carbon and temperature are somehow inter-related, in my opinion, you have to ask yourself if YOUR opinion was ever sought on any of this. The answer is, “Of course not you peasant.”
    In my opinion these hoaxes have one purpose, and that is to kill the economy and render our farmland sterile. The people I believe to be criminals have used weather control technology, in my view, to greatly reduce precipitation. Also, in my view, they have introduced glyphosates to kill the bees and sprayed heavy metal particulates and reduced carbon dioxide to slow the process of photosynthesis.
    There is solid science and investigative journalism to back up my hypothesis. I welcome rational arguments from those of you who can reason and spell. I am not holding my breath though, because carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, in my opinion, and the opinion of National Geographic.
    The UN, also in my opinion, criminals, want you to believe the gas that plants need to produce energy in the form of food, is somehow bad for you. Fine. Don’t eat. You will fit into those “skinny jeans” real nice.
    Those of us who like rain and food and green plants are disturbed by all of this. How can fellow Americans have been educated and still be such lemmings? You have to call upon science once again for the answer. Do they filter the impurities from their water? Are they ingesting fluoride, lead, aluminum and glyphosate? Are they not taking iodine to counteract some of these? Do they watch television when they should be reading? Do they think the 1% give one damn about them, after all we have learned?
    In the end, we must brave the future. I see us getting solar panels for our homes, in my view, to get away from the dependency on big business that cows to irrational climate hysteria. These suits are trapped in an ideological hell, in my opinion, by the lesser of the species who dominate the conversation with emotional blather. They will call people names and pontificate with false assertions, in my opinion. But being wrong is not ameliorated by being loud.
    If you believe this claptrap than please pay more for power. I won’t.

    1. ” The people I believe to be criminals have used weather control technology, in my view, to greatly reduce precipitation.”
      Please do tell what evidence has shaped this “view”. I’ll be waiting with my popcorn.
      In the meantime Bob, get help.

  5. I learned something about Wyoming energy policy this week after engaging in a brief e-mail dialogue with an official from the Wyoming Energy Authority. The WEA is the legislatively created task force to provide guidance to present and future Wyoming energy policy, emanating from an appointed 12-person Board ( seven voting members, 5 nonvoting ). Their mission statements say they are inclusive in promoting all forms of energy … fossil fuel x 3 , wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen … the gamut. That’s what they say …

    Truth be told, of the 12 members of the board, nine are from the fossil fuel industries of coal, oil, and gas. Two are general business reps. Only one member comes from the alternative energy sector , to wit: Anschutz Corp. of Denver who is constructing the two huge windfarms in southern Wyoming. But she is outgunned.

    The Wyoming Energy Authority was and remains beholden to hydrocarbons, fully 180° out of phase with the global energy dynamic. Their idea of innovation is keeping the coal bins stocked and burying the burnt carbon. The net result is when it concerns carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being the primary driver of ramping Climate Change, Wyoming chooses to remain on the problem side of the equation and not the solution. Newsflash to WEA : the rules of physical chemistry and the laws of thermodynamics can be bent a little , but not broken.

    Kerry Drake is right about one thing: in the end, the consumer pays the bills. Rate payers fund regressive energy policy. With Wyoming’s Governor and Legislature so reflexively biased against wind and solar power, we are s-o-o-o screwed.

  6. If Pacific Corp wants ratepayers for their infrastructure, rather than the traditional way of issuing stick, they should dissolve as a privately held company and become a co op with ratepayers as owners and stockholders.
    Anything else is privatized profits and socialized investments.

  7. I should not cost near this much. The technologies have been available for carbon capture off power plants has been available for 50 years. It really simple matter to capture stack exhaust and put it under ground. Economically! North Dakota power plants have been shipping exhaust gas to Sask oil feilds and put under ground safley for 20-25 years. Oil wells are all around these power plants. And it not that expensive to drill one/two wells to storage zone. These power plants have dropped the ball for years.

    1. I am a retired O&G geologist. your suggestion sounds very simple. What oil fields around these power plants do you propose to inject the CO2? Have any studies been made to determine the viable use of CO2 from proposed scrubbers? We have serious problems in Oklahoma and other areas with injection of wastewater and causing earthquakes. CO2 has much higher mobility and is less predictable in where it will go after injection. Undergound storage of CO2 is touted as being a help for decarbonization but it is a fools game.