States, like the people who live in them, respond to adversity in different ways. As the nation’s coal industry confronts a mounting collection of challenges, one state that relies heavily on the industry has chosen an optimistic path of defiance.
In April, Wyoming officials celebrated the groundbreaking of a new facility dedicated to the study of carbon capture technology. The Integrated Test Center (ITC) is a collaboration between the state government and private industry. Wyoming provided $15 million in seed money that was combined with $5 million from the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and $1 million from the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association, for a total of $21 million.
The ITC will provide space for researchers to test carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) technologies. It is one of a handful of such facilities around the world and only the second one in the country. Unlike other facilities of its kind, the testing will not take place in a laboratory, but at an operating, coal-fired power plant, where real-world conditions can be observed. The facility is at Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Dry Fork Station near Gillette, Wyo.
Officials praised the new facility at the opening. Referring to the effect on his state and the nation from the loss of coal jobs and on the potential for CCUS technology to reverse that trend, Gov. Matt Mead said, “We’re looking for a game-changer for the world.”
The industry faces many challenges, such as competition from renewables, changing weather patterns, plummeting natural gas prices and tightening environmental regulations.
In its June 9 Weekly Coal Report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that U.S. coal production for the first three months of 2016 was 173 million short tons, the lowest quarterly level in more than 30 years. Coal production from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming declined more than in any other region, in terms of tonnage and percentage, since the previous quarter.