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Title:A fading coal town hitches its hopes to Bill Gates’s clean-energy dream

KEMMERER, Wyo. - Mayor Bill Thek took office in 2020 with a mission to save this small coal town in southwest Wyoming, where high desert hills are rich in fossils and the fuels derived from them. The local power plant was scheduled to stop burning the carbon-emitting rock that had provided jobs for more than a century. The mine seemed likely to close along with it.

“We’re going to dry up and blow away,” Thek recalled thinking at the time. “I had no idea how the heck I was going to save it.”

Three years later, he and many others in this deep-red corner of the nation’s top coal-producing state have pinned hopes on unlikely saviors: tech mogul Bill Gates and the Biden administration, co-funders of a $4 billion, first-of-its kind nuclear project expected to employ locals and position Kemmerer as a pioneer in a clean-energy movement powered by small reactors.

That is the idea, anyway. The projected start date has already been delayed two years to 2030 because the sole source of the special fuel needed is Russia, and required environmental reviews have pushed back groundbreaking to at least next spring. A similar federally backed project in Idaho folded this month amid spiraling costs. The setbacks have stirred doubts among industry analysts, as well as some Kemmerer residents who stop Thek at the town’s lone grocery to ask whether Gates and the feds can be trusted to deliver.

But in a community idling in the latter half of its latest boom-bust cycle, misgivings have taken a back seat to optimism - and a dawning acceptance that a region built on coal, oil and gas may have little choice but to embrace a new identity. Amid empty downtown storefronts, a chic mercantile is about to open and a new coffee shop churns out lattes. Worn bungalows are selling quickly. A housing development is in the works.

“If you talk to people here, the majority of them, about climate change, they’re going to flip you off,” Thek said. But, he added, “we’ve...

Organization:Washington Post - Climate and Environment
Date Added:11/20/2023 6:41:19 AM