SWEETWATER COUNTY – Following Gov. Mark Gordon’s announcement of the partnership with PacifiCorp and TerraPower to bring a nuclear power plant to Wyoming and replace a coal plant that was scheduled for retirement, local leaders responded to the possibility of the project being located in Sweetwater County.
“This is a very positive opportunity for Sweetwater County if so selected. I see no cons and only positive opportunities here,” Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo said. “We have a very strong work force, available supplies/minerals necessary for the operation and all aspects of transportation needed for delivery.
Kaumo said nuclear power is a clean and efficient energy source which has become much safer than in the early days of development.
“This opportunity would give Sweetwater County and Wyoming one more tool on our belt of maintaining our reputation for being an energy provider for the nation,” he said.
The Jim Bridger Plant would be an excellent candidate for this project, according to Mayor Kaumo.
“We not only have the necessary means of transportation such as interstate, rail and an airport nearby, we are located (close) to the many supplies needed for the operation including uranium. We can meet the needs of any additional housing and public services which may be needed, and the largest benefit is the possibility that those lost jobs in the coal industry can be kept through training and then enter into the workforce needed for this new source of energy market.”
Kaumo said this opportunity “perfectly describes what diversification of our energy portfolio means” and opens many new doors in regards to all the necessary service industries that would be needed to supply materials, equipment and manpower to fulfill the demands of this project.
He echoed comments by Rocky Mountain Power that this by no means is meant to speed up the coal industry’s time frame for closing these coal plants, yet only helps to prolong the operation and transfer lost jobs to new jobs in this new market.
“The energy sector of course always has an impact on our community, whether it be loss of jobs or that of gaining jobs and families. We have to continue to plan for both aspects and be cognizant of any declines in the energy sector so we can promote and establish new opportunities before we lose revenues or local residents. The main focus is to diversify and not have all of our ducks in one pond so that when one sector declines, others can help pull the load and new opportunities such as this can then replace that which may have been lost,” Kaumo said.
“We know that by just depending on one sector in the energy market, a city/town can be turned into a ghost town overnight by the loss of that sector, whether it be by a decrease in demand, the ideology of a new administration or an environmental issue. Diversification is key in stabilizing our communities and tax revenues.”
Mayor Kaumo said the community needs to lobby on behalf of locating this opportunity in Sweetwater County and the Jim Bridger Power Plant.
“We rely heavily on these mine-related jobs, and we have a reputation of being hard workers, good stewards of our resources and committed to our communities. I would emphasize that everyone in Sweetwater County reach out to Rocky Mountain Power and lobby on behalf of Sweetwater County. This is an opportunity that doesn’t come often and couldn’t have come at a better time. Support Sweetwater County energy!” he said.
PROMOTING OUR OUTSTANDING ASSETS
Green River Mayor Pete Rust said he thinks the announcement that Wyoming has been chosen as the site for a new nuclear power demonstration plant at the site of one of our current retiring coal-fired power plants is exactly as the governor characterized it -- “a truly game-changing and monumental opportunity for the chosen location/community within the state.”
“The positives for this project are numerous but among the most important are the economic benefits of both construction and maintenance jobs as well as the permanent jobs which are reported to be comparable in number, salary and benefits to jobs at our current coal-fired plants. Having a new technology which will develop a secondary additional industry growth source in the production of uranium needed in the new power plant adds diversity in multiple new industries which helps our goal of diversifying our economy.“
That this technology will allow us to provide carbon free electricity 24/7/365 is extremely important in forwarding this nation’s energy goals, the mayor noted.
“There are many other positives including the potential for expansion of the roles the University of Wyoming and the community colleges can play in research related to carbon capture and numerous associated energy technology issues as well as job education and training to mention just a few of the positives of this type of new innovative technology being selected for our state,” he said.
“As to the cons of this proposal, we will have to wait and see the plan for the project which will be provided to us in the coming days, weeks and months prior to a decision for the plants specific location at the end of the year.”
When asked about his thoughts on nuclear power, Mayor Rust deferred to experts on this “as it is a constantly changing, evolving technology, which doubtless has explored many new innovative methods to improve over the last decades since our last new nuclear plant was built.”
Rust agreed that Sweetwater County and the Jim Bridger Power Plant would make an excellent site choice.
“I would think we have one of the best community colleges in the nation to help retrain workers, we have the interstate, the railroad, a modernizing regional airport and excess water, just to name a few of our outstanding assets for any new industry,” he said.
Rust added that anything that involves a completely “new” updated technology components will require a lot of research and education to be able to make informed judgments, which is part of any process such as the one that is now underway for this project.
SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN
“I am so excited about the possibilities this announcement brings and will be even more excited if the later announcement is that Sweetwater County will be home to this project,” Commissioner Jeff Smith said. “Unfortunately, we have to wait for that announcement, and I will do whatever I can to represent Sweetwater County as the best choice for the project.”
He said jobs and some diversity for our economy are the two most obvious pros he can see.
“It will also give us a path toward combating climate change,” he said.
When it comes to cons, he said, “I could see red tape and regulations being so burdensome that the benefits of building this project won't be realized for years and years to come.”
The commissioner said he is a proponent of the next generation of nuclear power after learning about how safe and efficient it is.
“I hope people will educate themselves about how different this technology is before condemning it and lumping it in with the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island-style plants of the ‘80s and more recently, the Fukushima disaster,” he said. “About a year ago when I heard of TerraPower and took the time to learn about their new technology I thought, ‘that is something Sweetwater County needs.’”
Commissioner Smith agrees that Sweetwater County would be an excellent candidate for this project and said, “We are able to staff the required jobs, we have a uranium mine in the county, we have the transmission capability, plus, Sweetwater County is a great place to live and to do business.”
When asked how the project fits in with ongoing efforts to diversify southwest Wyoming’s economy, Smith said while it is still in the energy sector, he sees it as the next generation of energy which will have life for decades to come.
“It is complimentary to the mining and energy generation sectors we currently have. The associated support jobs and ‘starburst’ effect of a business this size with the number of people it will employ is something to be excited about,” he said.
Looking at how the energy sector impacts the community, Smith said, “Governor Gordon and many others are looking to have their cake and eat it too. They continue to say there is a future for coal while committing to explore other opportunities. Coal will never be what it has been. I do not believe coal is going to be extinct either. There will be some smaller piece in the puzzle for it for many years to come.
“Oil, gas, it looks to be a slower decline but it will also decline, especially if President Biden can get his "all electric car" proposal through. Opportunities like this are our future. It will mean the world for our community to see this, and other businesses like it, call Sweetwater County home. I am just hopeful that we are the choice.”
He said as a commissioner, his is committed to bringing this project to Sweetwater County.
“I believe in it and see many more positive aspects than negative. And I believe this would be just one of many new ventures coming to our county in the future,” Commissioner Smith said.
Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Randy Wendling said the governor’s announcement coincided with the commissioners being in a Board of Equalization hearing and he hadn’t had time to review the project information.
Requests from comments from the other commissioners and the Rock Springs and Green River chambers of commerce were not returned as of press time.
WYOMING MINING ASSOCIATION WEIGHS IN
Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti responded to the announcement on Wednesday.
“This is an exciting opportunity for Wyoming to open a new chapter in the nuclear power industry. Advanced nuclear generation clearly fits the bill for zero-emission, reliable and dispatchable electricity necessary to power our country into the future. Wyoming is the nation’s leader in the production of domestic uranium. Our producers stand ready, willing and able to safely and responsibly provide the vital fuel for America’s next generation of nuclear power,” he said.
The Wyoming Mining Association (WMA) is a statewide trade organization that represents and advocates for 28 mining company members producing bentonite, coal, trona (natural soda ash), and uranium, according to a press release. WMA also represents 120 associate member companies, one railroad, two electricity co-ops, and 200 individual members.