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Dept. Of Energy Official Has Hope For Coal

Catherine Wheeler

A U.S. Department of Energy official visited the state this week after an invitation from Gov. Mark Gordon.

Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy Steven Winberg is touring the state's energy facilities from August 21-23. On his first day, Winberg stopped at the Integrated Test Center and Dry Fork Station power plant with Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi.

Winberg said he's impressed with the Campbell County facilities, adding that Dry Fork is one of the best maintain coal-fired power plants he's seen.

Despite the drop in demand for coal and the retirements of many coal plants, Winberg said he doesn't think the energy source has seen its last days.

"I think we very well could be moving into a time in coal's history where not only is it used for power generation and near zero-emission, but it's also used as a raw material for building material and carbon fiber or maybe replacing wall board at some point," he said.

Winberg said, if the U.S. is going to continue to use coal, the country needs to develop ways to handle carbon emissions. The Coal FIRST program, which stands for flexible, innovative, resilient, small and transformative, will be one of those ways.

"The Coal FIRST program is going to build the next generation of coal-fired boilers and they are going to be near zero-emission. In fact, if we burn 80 percent coal and 20 percent biomass with 95 percent CO2 capture, it will be a net negative CO2 emission facility," he said.

Both Enzi and Winberg said America's ingenuity, competition and innovation will propel the industry to make more advances.

"You might recall we were running out of oil and natural gas, but it was innovation and ingenuity that completely changed that around. And over the last decade or so, now we are the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world because of innovation," Winberg said.

He added getting coal into overseas markets would be beneficial to America's coal industry.

"The world is continuing to burn coal, and the United States has some of the highest quality coal in the world. And we could be shipping coal out of this region into the Asia-Pacific area if we had a coal export terminal on the West coast," he said.

Winberg added the U.S. does need to focus on carbon capture, something Campbell County wants to be a leader in.

"We need to focus on that technology and we are at the Department of Energy. We spend about $200 million a year on carbon capture and sequestration and these folks here at this test center are at the leading edge of that," he said.

Winberg will continue his tour through the state and will visit with Gov. Gordon in Cheyenne.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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