Gov. Mead Talks Coal at Gillette Forum
Governor Matt Mead spoke at a forum on Tuesday in Gillette, facilitating a discussion on the future of coal in Wyoming.
“We’re not making widgets here. We’re not making something people don’t need. Everyone needs energy,” Mead said.
Sponsored by the National Association of Counties, the “Strengthening Economies in Wyoming” was a two-day conference to present ideas of how coal-reliant communities can survive and thrive in a “new normal” environment.
It’s part of an ongoing response to the pangs of the “boom and bust” cycle that are so much a part of Wyoming’s economic history.
“Those were dark days here in Campbell County. Those were dark days in Wyoming,” Mead said of the most recent bust.
Mead had just returned from Taiwan, where the state opened a trade office, the first the state has had in the Southeast Asian country in many years. The purpose of Mead’s involvement is part of a push to open the East to coal exports from the Powder River Basin.
While domestic coal use has declined considerably in the past several years, Eastern markets are expanding their use of the source.
Mead explained how Taiwan is likely to be reliant on coal as its primary energy source for years to come. Wind energy only provides intermittent power, and the small island country doesn’t have much land for acres of wind mills.
Mead said this highlights a fact overlooked in the national discourse on energy, which often ignores a primary benefit of coal power over wind and solar—coal has a very small footprint.
Even nuclear energy has limits in a country that faces the threat of powerful tropical storms.
While the governor was there, he toured the island nation’s primary coal-fired power plant, which, at the time it was built, was the largest in the world. It’s now in the top five.
At this time, Taiwan gets most of its coal from Indonesia and Australia. Mead said the country was currently test firing small loads of coal from the Powder River Basin, as its low sulfur content makes it competitive with current source countries.
“We have good coal in the Powder River,” Mead said.
Mead also discussed his ongoing drive to diversify the economy. He praised ENDOW for its effort to that end, especially on looking for solutions to the state’s “brain drain.” This is a term given to the fact a majority of Wyoming young graduates move to other states for jobs after completing their studies. Stopping this will require the creation of jobs here in the state.
“Things are changing, and we need to adapt to that change,” he said.
While Mead praised the work ENDOW is doing, he said the ultimate success of the diversification initiative will not come from government.
“Government can start the talk, but it’s the private sector that will determine if this is going to work,” he said.