The Southern Ute Reservation Could Get A Zero-Emission Power Plant That Runs On Fossil Fuels (Yes, You Read That Right)

April 19, 2021
NET Power’s test power plant in La Porte, Texas captures the CO2 it produces before it enters the atmosphere.NET Power’s test power plant in La Porte, Texas captures the CO2 it produces before it enters the atmosphere.Photo Courtesy of 8 River’s Capitol
NET Power’s test power plant in La Porte, Texas captures the CO2 it produces before it enters the atmosphere.

Outside of Houston is a zero-emissions power plant that runs on fossil fuels invented to keep burning natural gas without contributing to climate change. 

Since 2018, the company NET Power has used the site to test a technology that keeps the plant’s carbon dioxide byproduct out of the atmosphere. The semi-closed loop system reuses some of the CO2 to help power the plant. The rest of the greenhouse gas is captured to be stored underground so it can’t enter the atmosphere or sold to industries that use CO2 — like soda companies carbonating drinks. 

The technology, developed by 8 Rivers Capital, made it on MIT’s 2018 list of 10 technological breakthroughs. The company says the pilot was successful and it’s now moving to construct four commercial plants. One of them is planned for the Southern Ute Reservation in southwest Colorado. 

“Although the Tribe has a rich and successful history as an energy producer in Indian Country, we have always prioritized the protection of our natural resources. This project further exemplifies our environmental stewardship," wrote Southern Ute Vice Chairman Bruce Valdez in a statement.

A final decision on whether the plant will be built will be made in 2022, and production on the Coyote Clean Power Project could begin by 2025. The plant would operate without needing additional water and the company claims it eliminates all emissions, including air pollution. 

"Development of one of the world's first zero-emission and water neutral power plants will lead to economic development and job growth while accelerating our transition to 100 percent clean electricity,” wrote Gov. Jared Polis in a statement. “We are thrilled about this partnership between the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and 8 Rivers Capital, as our region continues to lead in the clean energy transition, and my Administration stands ready to support next steps in the Coyote Clean Power Project."

While some view the technology as a game-changer, there's still the problem of what to do with the plant's captured carbon. It would need to be stored so it can’t enter the atmosphere, which the company claims can be done “cheaply.”

In an email, 8 Rivers representative Adam Goff wrote that the operators are evaluating different options for its CO2, which could be injected deep underground for permanent storage. Goff wrote that the plan for the Colorado facility is to store all of the CO2 produced, but they’re not ruling out other uses for the gas like selling it for carbonating soda. 

As reported by Bloomberg, environmentalists are concerned about the continued use of natural gas. And while the plant might not release any emissions, the production and transportation of fossil fuels needed to power the plant would. 

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director with the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians, wrote in an email that he’s “incredibly skeptical” that the project will ever be built due to costs and “the commercially unproven nature of carbon capture and sequestration.” 

“I say more power to the Southern Ute Tribe. It's certainly not our place to second guess what they view to be a good investment,” Nichols wrote. “If the Southern Ute Tribe wants to stay locked into dependence on oil and gas, that's their right.  Even if it costs them opportunities to develop more viable and affordable means of energy production, that's their prerogative.”