It’s a marriage made in Wyoming, and it’s destined to go nuclear. Rocky Mountain Power, serving end users on the west coast who want their energy from anything but carbon-based fuels, found a willing bedmate in billionaire Bill Gates, who wants to seed a green revolution. Their offspring will be an advanced reactor nuclear power plant operating somewhere in the Cowboy State.
Governor Mark Gordon made the announcement on June 2nd at a news conference in Cheyenne. Bill Gates, who owns Terra Power, joined the announcement via a video hookup. The governor said the demonstration plant will be replace one of the coal fired power plants in the Wyoming Pacific Corp system.
Betting on where the plant will be located as proved sporting interest. State officials have remained silent. Also in the room that day was Representative Donald Burkhart of Rawlins, a member of the legislature’s Energy Council. Burkhart said three communities are on the short list.
All three towns have a ready workforce and a built-in energy infrastructure associated with their existing power facilities, including transmission lines. Burkhart is familiar with the project and its potential benefits. The representative said that Wyoming is not providing any cash or tax incentives to Gates and Rocky Mountain Power for their joint venture into green energy.
Representative Burkhart said current estimates indicate the nuclear plant will create a job boom for the community that is selected. During construction, the peak number of workers could be as high as 3,000. Once built, 400-to-500 people will be needed to operate the facility. The skill sets needed will be on a par or greater than energy workers at coal or gas-fired plants. More security will be needed. Burkhart said the state is working with community colleges to prepare a workforce that will be ready to take those jobs, including the specialty welders that will be needed.
The proposed pilot plant is relatively small by energy industry standards. Although it can be dialed up to a peak output of 500 megawatts for short periods, its regular scheduled output is rate at 345 megawatts.
By comparison, one of the coal-fired units at Jim Bridger is rated at 435 megawatts. The one remaining reactor at the troubled Three Mile Island Plant in southeastern Pennsylvania is rated at 819 megawatts.
The Wyoming facility will be a different than Three Mile Island. The nuclear reactor will not be cooled by water. Liquid sodium will be used. A sodium material will also used to store power that can be tapped to ramp up energy on-demand. A promotional video on the Terra Company website describes the facility this way.
Burkhart said the biggest concern that he has heard about the plant so far is not the what, but who is behind it. As some Wyoming wags say, after his work Microsoft Software and vaccination debacles in third world countries, what could go wrong with Bill Gates behind a nuclear power plant in Wyoming? Representative Burkhart takes a practical, even charitable view.
Burkhart also said China is not involved in the project in any way. He added that Gates tried to shop the technology to China, but the Trump administration blocked the effort.
Wyoming will benefit in many ways from the project if it is built, Burkhart said. In addition to the taxes, other industrial spinoffs could occur. For instance, steam generated by the plant could be sold to companies that locate nearby to power engines and other large equipment.
Officials have said the announcement of which community will be home to the project will be named at the end of the year. Representative Burkhart said he believes the announcement will be made in the fall, so that construction can get underway next year. The plant is scheduled to be operational in seven years, a timeline that Burkhart said is “unbelievably fast.”