Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in July with Osamu Tsukamoto, President of Japan Coal Energy Center (JCOAL), committing to cooperation in coal research and development of clean-coal technologies. JCOAL represents more than 120 different Japanese manufacturing and energy companies, including Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Nippon Steel, and Toshiba. The MOU covers technical cooperation, research and development, information exchange, and facilitating coal exports. It allows researchers from the University of Wyoming, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Infrastructure Authority and other state agencies to collaborate with JCOAL and the 120 companies they represent on coal issues. Wyoming also plans to host a conference within a year to facilitate work between Japanese researchers and researchers from the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources.
Wyoming, the largest coal-producing state in the US, depends heavily on revenues from production of coal and other fuels. However, Wyoming’s coal industry has struggled in recent years because of falling energy prices and lower demand. Wyoming also has been stymied in its ability to export coal to markets such as Asia. Washington and Oregon are concerned about possible environment damage and noise from shipping coal via train from Wyoming to ports in the Pacific Northwest. Governor Mead hopes that the MOU focusing on reducing emissions from coal plants will make opening ports in places like the state of Washington easier, thereby creating new coal export markets for Wyoming, especially in Japan.
Japan has increased its reliance on coal for electricity generation following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Currently, coal-fired plants in Japan get their fuel from Australia and Indonesia, but Japan has been exploring new sources of coal from around the world. Governor Mead believes that Wyoming’s progress in reducing emissions from coal plants could help Wyoming export coal in a level that would meet Japan’s demand.
Recent years have also seen increasing collaboration between American and Japanese companies on clean energy. In July, General Electric Co. (GE), Virginia Solar Group, and Tokyo-based EPC Tokyo Engineering Corporation started the commercial operations of a 32-megawatt solar power plant in the Okayama Prefecture in Japan, providing electricity to almost 11,000 Japanese households. Alaska and Kyoto, Japan also signed a MOU in mid-September 2015 to examine the feasibility of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Alaska to Japan, thereby, securing another supply of clean energy that would allow Kyoto Prefecture to end its dependence on nuclear power by 2040.
Sin Yan (Amy) Lau is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at American University.