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Power Company Tri-State Pitches $10M CO2 X Prize

Fri, 01/24/2014 - 8:43am
Mead Gruver, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A power company is raising money for a $10 million X Prize to spur technology to capture and use carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead proposed Thursday that his state get involved in the competition by helping build a facility where teams could test out their technology.

The prize winner would have to be able to show they could economically capture carbon emissions at a working power plant. They also would have to be able to put the carbon to a use that could defray the cost of keeping the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

The Culver City, Calif.-based X Prize Foundation was behind the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which led to the first private manned spaceflight in 2004. Current contests include the $30 million Google Lunar Lander X Prize for the first private company to safely land a craft on the moon.

The Tri-State Carbon X Prize is under development while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeks to require all new coal-fired power plants to capture carbon dioxide.

Westminster, Colo.-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. is looking ahead to the day when existing coal-fired power plants might also need to meet such a standard, Vice President Jim Spiers said.

"We tend to have policy outstripping technology. And that puts us in a very difficult position," Spiers said in a presentation Thursday at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority's winter meeting in Cheyenne.

It's just not economically feasible for Tri-State to reduce CO2 emissions by modifying its coal-fired power plants to burn natural gas, he said.

Tri-State supplies electricity to 44 electric cooperatives and public power districts in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and New Mexico. All but one of the nonprofit, wholesale electricity provider's six coal-fired power plants have at least 30 years of life left before needing major upgrades that could make conversion to gas power feasible, he said.

X Prize spokesman Eric Desatnik said by email that the Tri-State Carbon X Prize is "still in development" and not ready for launch.

Tri-State has secured about half of the $34 million the X Prize contest would cost, a figure that includes the award money and the costs of holding the contest, Spiers said. The company plans to develop a facility where teams could test the technology.

Existing uses of industrial carbon dioxide include pressurizing old oil fields to restore production, a process that has been successful in central Wyoming. The problem is that coal-fired power plants emit far more carbon dioxide than can ever be used for enhanced oil recovery.

Mead on Thursday proposed that Wyoming and private companies could team up with Tri-State to build the test center at a Wyoming power plant. Tri-State's only coal-fired facility in Wyoming is the Laramie River Station near Wheatland — the company owns a 24-percent share of that plant — but the test center could be located elsewhere, Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said.

Mead proposed that on top of Tri-State's $34 million, Wyoming set aside $15 million: $12 million to build the test center and $3 million to facilitate University of Wyoming research there.

"There are many details that need to be worked out on this proposal, but I want Wyoming to maintain a position of leadership when it comes to carbon research," Mead said in a release.

Wyoming has a keen interest in keeping coal viable as a fuel source. About 40 percent of the nation's coal comes from Wyoming, the top coal-producing state. The coal industry provides high-paying jobs and millions a year in state and federal revenues.

Yet power plants burning relatively inexpensive natural gas have been taking a bite out of Wyoming's coal production. Coal production in Wyoming slipped from 430 million tons in 2011 to an estimated 385 million tons in 2013.

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