JACKSON — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s vision for the state’s energy sector weds two ideas often considered incompatible: a healthy environment and the continued use of fossil fuels.
During an energy conference at Snow King Resort’s Grand View Lodge on last week, Gordon proposed a future in which Wyoming preserves the mineral industry that accounts for much of the state’s income, while simultaneously contributing to worldwide efforts to halt climate change before it irreversibly wrecks the planet.
“To the unsophisticated, climate and coal are mutually exclusive,” he said. “I believe such an argument is overly simplistic.”
As a case in point, he used the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority’s Spring Energy Conference to announce the state’s latest contribution to carbon-capture research: a $250,000 grant to Carbon180, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that aims to “transform carbon from a liability to an asset.”
Essentially, that means removing harmful carbon emissions from the atmosphere and recycling them into useful products. Matt Lucas, director of Carbontech Labs, an initiative of Carbon180, gave two examples: Already, there are companies that infuse carbon into concrete or feed it to algae farms.
Carbontech Labs, a startup accelerator, will use the funding from Wyoming — along with another $1 million from billionaire British investor Jeremy Grantham, according to The Associated Press — to fund development of such techniques at budding companies throughout North America.
Those funded through the program will also have access to Wyoming’s Integrated Test Center, where researchers study carbon capture and sequestration using emissions from a coal-fired plant in the Powder River Basin.
Lucas, like Gordon, refuted the idea that carbon technology and renewables are an either-or proposition.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
He noted that it’s also essential to reduce carbon use. But with so much of the globe-warming pollutants already loose, Lucas said, “we have to take the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere, yesterday’s emissions, and pull it out.”
“We’re not here necessarily to maintain coal,” he went on. “We’re enabling a pathway to that new carbon economy that stores more carbon than it emits.”
Renewable energy still “has a role to play” in Wyoming, Gordon said. But he added that coal will comprise a “significant” portion of America’s energy portfolio “for decades to come,” meaning the state would do well to invest in both strategies.
Skeptics argue that carbon technology will never be economically feasible and is, therefore, counterproductive. But Gordon recalled the infancy of wind power in the 1980s, when critics argued the same for renewables.
Of course, the looming consequences of climate change are more urgent than they were in the 1980s. In October a panel of international scientists convened by the United Nations reported that a “crisis” could be imminent as soon as 2040.
Throughout his presentation Gordon cited climate change as one major reason for pursuing carbon-neutral technology, but sidestepped a question about whether he believed the phenomenon was a result of human activity.