CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon and the Trump administration still see a place for coal in Wyoming’s economic future. But both state and federal leaders say roadblocks to export terminals on the West Coast must be removed, and investments in clean technology need to be increased.
Gordon and Steven Winberg, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, toured Wyoming the past few days to highlight the state’s coal industry, along with the research going on across the state in carbon capture and clean coal technologies.
And the pair took the opportunity at a Thursday news conference to tout a very optimistic take on the future of coal in Wyoming and across the country.
“Fossil energy is starting to pull together at the private sector level, and we’re seeing companies stepping up to the plate to commercialize this technology,” Winberg said.
Carbon capture, clean coal technology and coal-based products have the potential to increase the availability of coal as it faces steep declines in sales and market price, Winberg said.
While those technologies are at least a decade or two away from being viable, Winberg said he didn’t believe those technologies would come too late to help save the coal industry in Wyoming.
And given the reliance of the nation’s power grid on coal power to meet demand, he said he believes there will be plenty of demand to keep coal viable while new technologies are being developed.
“The Wyoming coal industry is going through a restructuring here, and as everyone knows, restructuring is painful,” Winberg said. “But at the end of the day, after that restructuring, we will still be producing and utilizing coal from Wyoming.”
Gordon said the decline in coal is not going at a rate that would indicate the industry is going away in the immediate future. And as subsidies for renewable energies are pulled back, and the market balances back out again, coal and other fossil fuels will see their markets level off.
But one of the biggest drivers for keeping coal a viable industry, even during the restructuring, Gordon said, is the need for it to meet those peak demands of energy usage. While renewables can supply power, power plants need a source of fuel on the ground they can use to ramp up production to meet significant demands.
“Ultimately, as you look at the grid and its ability to stay stable and provide reliable power, that’s going to enter the national discussion in a way that hasn’t so far,” Gordon said. “Now we’re going to start to see issues of supply and how you manage the grid, and how you’re going to be able to power this nation.”
Winberg also believes the market is being depreciated for Powder River Basin coal due to Washington state’s opposition to a proposed new coal export terminal.
“(This office) is doing a study on the limitations that we currently have in exporting coal, and natural gas, for this matter, out of the West Coast. There are markets in the Asia Pacific region of the world that very much want Wyoming coal,” Winberg said. “The value proposition (in exporting) is pretty clear for the resident of Wyoming. But it is also a value proposition for the Asian Pacific countries because they’re burning a higher-quality coal.”