Study says Wyoming coal essential

WYOMING - Wyoming's Powder River Basin coal will be an essential part of the nation's energy future even as the country moves toward cleaner power sources, a University of Wyoming professor who studies energy economics says.

"The point I'm trying to raise is to think of PRB coal as a strategic asset for the country rather than a liability as many believe because of the CO2 problem," professor Tim Considine said.

Considine recently conducted a study for the Wyoming Mining Association on the economics of coal in the Powder River Basin.

Coal powers about 50 percent of the electric generation in the nation, but the Obama administration and Congress are pushing cleaner sources such as wind and solar to reduce the nation's carbon dioxide output.

Power plants that burn coal emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to global warming.

Considine's study determined that PRB coal keeps the cost of producing electricity low because it's cheaper than wind, solar and nuclear sources and less volatile than natural gas.

"If you look at the true cost of wind power and solar power, it's way up there," he said. "So there's a huge gap between the marginal cost of electricity from solar and wind and coal.

Affordable electricity is important because electricity helps to drive technological innovation, which the nation needs to propel a lower carbon economy, he said.

"As society eventually comes to grips with the real costs of restraining carbon dioxide emissions, the value of PRB coal will be appreciated and embraced to maintain political support for costly experiments with carbon-free energy," Considine's report said.

Considine said he was confident that researchers will be able to find a solution to capturing and storing large quantities of CO2 produced by power plants.

Even with the additional costs of capturing and storing CO2, coal should still be priced competitively with the growing low carbon energy sources, he said.

He likened the events unfolding in energy to a horse race.

"There's a coal horse, and a nuke horse, and a wind horse and a solar horse and they're all racing, and I don't think coal is going to pull up lame or break a leg and not make the race," Considine said. "It'll be in the mix."


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