Wyoming's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions stands above a geological formation considered one of the nation's best potential carbon storage sites, but because of technological hurdles, coal-fired power plants like PacifiCorp's Jim Bridger facility remain decades away from rerouting their emissions into the ground.

The Rock Springs Uplift geological formation has enough capacity to accommodate 100 years' worth of carbon dioxide from the Rock Springs, Wyo., power plant, which produces about 18 million tons of the greenhouse gas each year. But because current carbon capture technology would consume about 20 percent of a pulverized-coal plant's power and would produce a substantial amount of waste materials, that geographical proximity is currently nothing but a coincidence.

"There is not yet a commercially viable technology to capture CO2. You can't walk into a store and say, 'I want to buy your carbon capture technology and plug it into my plant,'" said Daryl Hill, a spokesman for Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

The technology already exists to capture carbon at coal-gasification power plants, but those plants are significantly more expensive.

Though it's possible that technological innovation will allow conventional plants to sequester their emissions, even coal industry boosters such as Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) are skeptical. Freudenthal is pushing for the increased adoption of coal-gasification plants, which would maintain the demand for Wyoming coal.

"It may turn out that we figure out how to capture a lot more CO2 out of the existing flue gas streams. I don't want to say it won't happen, but that seems to be the least promising, and it also appears to be really expensive," Freudenthal said.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club remain skeptical, though they agree that carbon storage would mitigate one of the main concerns about coal -- its large carbon footprint, thought to be contributing to global warming. Steve Thomas, western regional director of the Sierra Club, described the promise of carbon storage as a "straw man" used to deflect criticism of coal.

"There's all sorts of other problems with coal. There's mercury and the health impacts of mercury, damage to the landscape and a whole list of other things," Thomas said. "It just seems there's not a real energy plan going on in the state, and how we transition to a cleaner energy business" (Dustin Bleizeffer, Casper [Wyo.] Star-Tribune, May 27).

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500