Wyoming lawmakers double down on carbon capture
A contingent of Wyoming lawmakers have fought to expand carbon capture technology and pump more life into the state’s imperiled coal-fired power plants.
February 24, 2020
A contingent of Wyoming lawmakers, with the governor’s backing, have fought tooth and nail to expand carbon capture technology and pump more life into the state’s imperiled coal-fired power plants.
Legislation advanced from committee Friday would allow utilities to recover another expense category from ratepayers: the construction of carbon capture equipment on coal facilities.
House Bill 200 would anoint Wyoming’s Public Service Commission with the authority to set low-carbon electricity generation standards for utilities, all as a way to incentivize additional investment in the state’s abundant coal resources. The Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee voted Friday 7-2 to advance the bill to the House floor.
The commission would ultimately promote the new energy standards to “maximize the use of dispatchable and reliable low-carbon electricity” and expand the potential market for Wyoming coal. If a utility meets the new energy standard set by the Public Service Commission, it could potentially recover some of the cost of updating plants with carbon capture technology from ratepayers.
An amendment proposed last week would cap ratepayer obligations at 2 percent of the incremental costs. The initial bill draft introduced to committee had set the maximum cost to ratepayers at $1 billion. The Public Service Commission would also need to uphold its mandate to provide affordable and reliable power to ratepayers when reviewing any proposal for carbon capture, according to the bill’s supporters.
Critics of the bill have cautioned that investing more in coal, including carbon capture technology, is a lost cause, one that will only cost ratepayers. Demand for coal nationwide has rapidly dropped, causing production to decline by as much as 9 percent last year in Wyoming. What’s more, investments in carbon capture on a utility scale have generated mixed results nationwide and often carry exorbitant costs, critics point out. Carbon capture is the process of trapping carbon dioxide at facilities like coal-fired power plants to lower the volume of greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, described the legislation as an effort to encourage the state’s utilities to explore carbon capture options by allowing them to pass some of those costs onto ratepayers.
“Maybe we’re willing to pay a little more to keep coal around,” Zwonitzer said.