'This really is a prime location.' DOE official discusses carbon capture and power plant

New Mexico Business Coalition hosts Business and Social Hour

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • Mark Robeck spoke about funding the city of Farmington recently received from the U.S. Department of Energy to study retrofitting the San Juan Generating Station with carbon capture technology.
  • The event also included a panel discussion about petrochemical manufacturing.

FARMINGTON — A top U.S. energy official emphasized the various ways fossil fuels have helped improve human society when he spoke in Farmington earlier this week.

“Fossil fuels have lifted humanity in ways that really can’t be measured,” said Mark Robeck, deputy general counsel for energy policy at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Robeck was the keynote speaker for the New Mexico Business Coalition’s Business and Social Hour on Oct. 3 at Merrion Oil and Gas.

He spoke on a wide range of topics, including a proposal for carbon capture technology at the San Juan Generating Station, methane emissions in New Mexico and liquefied natural gas.

U.S. Department of Energy Deputy General Counsel of Energy Policy Mark Robeck speaks Oct. 3 during a New Mexico Business Coalition event in Farmington.

He said fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the energy market going into the future, especially in developing parts of the world.

“All around the world, there are many places that don’t live with the same kind of conditions that we have, and they still need fossil fuel energy,” he said.

Robeck also explained the role of the U.S. Department of Energy in promoting new technologies, including carbon capture technology.

More:Federal government will fund most of study related to power plant retrofit

“We are not really a regulatory agency,” Robeck said. “We have some regulations that we implement, but, by in large, it’s a research and development agency.”

Audience members listen to a U.S. Department of Energy official speak Oct. 3 during the New Mexico Business Coalition Business and Social Hour at Merrion Oil and Gas in Farmington.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded the city of Farmington and its partner Enchant Energy a Robeck grant to study a plan to apply carbon capture technology on the San Juan Generating Station.

“That’s the only realistic path for coal to continue to be used to produce electricity, and the only realistic way to get there is to develop and commercialize carbon capture, utilization and storage,” he said.

More:Enchant Energy CEO: 'This area could become a leader in CO2 in the world'

Robeck said carbon capture is needed for more than just coal-fired power plants. He said carbon dioxide emissions can be captured from many other facilities, including concrete factories, steel mills and refineries.

At center, Four Corners Economic Development CEO Arvin Trujillo answers a question while Mark Robeck, left, and Rep. Rod Montoya, right, listen. Carla Sonntag moderated the discussion.

Robeck said carbon capture technology is not yet a marketable product without federal funding assistance. He said the costs of the technology will need to be reduced by 50 percent.

“It’s a challenging goal, but we think we can get there,” Robeck said.

Robeck further highlighted the proximity of the the San Juan Generating Station to a carbon dioxide pipeline as an advantage for the plant.

“This really is a prime location for this type of research,” he said.

Panel discusses proposal for petrochemical manufacturing

The event concluded with a panel fielding questions about efforts to bring petrochemical manufacturing to San Juan County.

A petrochemical plant is one of the ways groups like Four Corners Economic Development hope to diversify the San Juan County economy.

Chris Hunter asks a question during a panel discussion Oct. 3 in Farmington.

There are still several major hurdles that would have to be cleared before a petrochemical plant could be built. Those include land access and water rights, as well as identifying a way of transporting the goods out of the area.

State Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said the legislative Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee will meet in Farmington at the end of the month. One of the topics on the committee’s agenda will be hearing an initial report about the viability of building a railroad to connect the Farmington area with Gallup.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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Mark Robeck, left, Arvin Trujillo and Rod Montoya participate in a panel discussion Oct. 3 in Farmington.