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California settles on clean coal future

California regulators have approved new standards for energy production that preclude importing electricity generated in conventional coal-burning power plants in Wyoming.
Jim Bridger Power Plant
Wyoming had hoped that coal-fired power plants like this one would sell electricity to California, but that state has decided to only buy what's known as clean coal power.Michael Smith / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

California energy regulators have approved new standards that embrace what’s known as clean coal and preclude importing electricity from conventional coal-burning power plants —

The California Energy Commission on Monday approved the Integrated Energy Policy Report, which includes new standards on greenhouse gas emissions beyond the reach of traditional, coal-fired power plants.

Wyoming energy officials say California's decision is a major setback to plans to build new coal plants to supply California via a planned transmission line. The decision also could affect the future value of Wyoming's coal reserves.

"The policy could preclude (using) coal-fired generation from Wyoming, in a timely way, to meet the power supply needs of California," said Steve Waddington, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.

Wyoming might sue
California's new policy restricts future purchases of out-of-state, coal-based power to only those facilities that can prevent pollution from entering the air. Any new coal plant that wishes to sell electricity there must be as clean as the best natural-gas fired plant.

The Wyoming authority may consider a legal challenge to the California rule based on interstate commerce law, officials said.

Wyoming officials have said coal-fired power plants would be the most affordable and most attainable option to secure investment in the proposed Wyoming-to-California Frontier transmission line. Once that investment is made, they say the line could carry power from wind, solar and other renewable resources that California wants.

Activists happy
A spokesman for the Wyoming Conservation Voters Education Fund said the California decision might finally force investors to support zero-emission coal technology.

"The writing is on the wall," said Jason Marsden, executive director of Wyoming Conservation Voters. "Investors should think twice before investing their money on new coal-combustion power plants that can't capture global warming pollutants, since California, the biggest potential electricity customer, is no longer interested in buying dirty, coal-fired power."

Waddington said the California policy could have a silver lining for Wyoming. He said California officials may ultimately conclude that they need to invest funds to work with Wyoming to develop clean-coal technologies.