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Wyo. Power Plant Stalls 17 Years, Faces Skepticism

By MEAD GRUVER

WRIGHT, Wyo. (AP) â¿¿ In Wyoming, folks call it the "No Elk" plant, an $800 million project that â¿¿ once finished â¿¿ was meant to supply coal-fired power to 100,000 homes and support dozens of full-time jobs on the rolling prairie of northeast Wyoming.

Megawatts from the Two Elk Energy Park originally were supposed to begin flowing back when Bill Clinton was president. Instead, a series of hang-ups, including the global economic meltdown and difficulty finding an investor willing to share the cost, have kept Two Elk at a virtual standstill. All that's been built on the rolling northeast Wyoming prairie, a stone's throw from some of the world's biggest coal mines, is a metal storage building and part of the plant's foundation.

The power plant has received substantial local, state and federal government support: Almost half a billion dollars in tax-exempt municipal bonds, none of it spent yet, and more recently, $10 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants.

Now, Two Elk is up for a state permit extension â¿¿ its seventh in 16 years â¿¿ and even some former proponents are growing skeptical.

"It's kind of a running joke," said Campbell County Commission Chairman Dan Coolidge. "On its face, it seems like a great idea. But it just never materialized."

On one hand, Two Elk shows just how difficult arranging financing and securing permits to build a power plant â¿¿ especially one involving coal â¿¿ can be these days.

On the other, the project shows just how accommodating Wyoming â¿¿ which ranks second only to Texas in producing the nation's raw energy â¿¿ can be with a power plant idea.

"The reason this thing seems so attractive is that we've had the idea that, you know, wouldn't it be great if we could maximize the value of these resources here in the state, rather than shipping them off to power plants in other places where they generate jobs in other communities?" said Dan Neal with the Equality State Policy Center, a state government watchdog group.

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