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Wyo. Power Plant Stalls 17 Years, Faces Skepticism

But Wyoming needs to wise up and not waste time and resources with bogged-down projects, Neal said.

"At some point, we've got to be able to read the market's tea leaves just like everybody else does. And if these guys can't get off the ground, then the state's got to move on," he said.

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Two Elk would be one of the more unusual large U.S. power plants. The 300-megawatt plant would burn a combination of low-grade coal from the nation's largest coal mines and timber from vast expanses of Rocky Mountain forests killed by a massive beetle infestation.

Two Elk first was proposed in 1996 and originally was supposed to begin generating electricity by the end of 1999.

At first, the plant's sole fuel source was to be low-grade coal from St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc.'s vast Black Thunder Mine, the biggest of a dozen big Powder River Basin mines that supply about 40 percent of the nation's coal.

Using "waste coal" that otherwise just gets reburied at the mine would save money for the company behind the Two Elk project â¿¿ Greenwood Village, Colo.-based North American Power Group, which also has four small coal- and wood-fired power plants in California.

It also would save on transportation compared with what Midwestern utilities spend to ship Powder River Basin coal hundreds of miles by train.

State and local officials liked the idea and did their best to help.

Over a decade, two Wyoming governors authorized Campbell County to issue a total of $445 million in tax-exempt industrial development revenue bonds for the project. The form of municipal bonds helps private-sector projects secure bank financing.

Work on Two Elk progressed slowly, meanwhile, and at a cost to taxpayers.

From 2005 to 2006, northeast Wyoming towns and counties got $10 million in state industrial impact grants they spent to bolster infrastructure and beef up local government services ahead of an influx of 700 construction workers and their families.

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