Dry Fork Station plant engineer part of WY coal delegation to Japan


Waiting to depart in the bullet train station: (From left) Tokusaburo Fukui, Japan Coal Energy Center; Dr. Mark Northam, University of Wyoming; Dr. Richard Horner, University of Wyoming; Jerimiah Rieman, State of Wyoming; Dennis Thorfinnson, Basin Electric; Carl Bauer, State of Wyoming, Wyoming Infrastructure Authority; and Michiaki Harada, Japan Coal Energy Center.

Bamboo shoots, jellyfish, ice cream topped with squid ink – the traditional Japanese cuisine was a little outside Dennis Thorfinnson’s comfort zone.

But discussions about coal-based power plant technology and subbituminous coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin? Right up his alley.

Thorfinnson, a plant engineer from Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station, joined a group of Wyoming state government and University of Wyoming personnel on a trip to Japan to market Wyoming’s subbituminous coal and tour carbon capture technology being used on coal-based power plants in Japan.

The trip was part of Wyoming’s ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) initiative, intended to diversify and expand the state’s economy.

Thorfinnson provided technical expertise and answered questions related to setup and site development of the large Integrated Test Center (ITC) at Dry Fork Station. His presence among the delegation also demonstrated a solid relationship between state and energy industry.


Dennis Thorfinnson (near) operates a remote control backhoe in a state-of-the-art port coal terminal. Coal is distributed from the terminal to all of Japan’s coal-based power plants. On a cultural note, Thorfinnson shared that shoes were not allowed in the control room.

“In Japan, it seems that success is based more on relationships than actual work you’re doing,” Thorfinnson says. “You must invest time, effort, and resources to develop relationships with people who sometimes don’t speak a common language.”

During their stay, the group met with several Japanese energy industry executives, and toured coal-based power plants that were using small-scale carbon capture technology.

“Japan shutting down their nuclear plants has caused some grid instability. So now they’re building coal plants quite expeditiously,” Thorfinnson says. “Japan is betting their future on coal.”

According to the Winter 2016 issue of Cornerstone Magazine, the official journal of the world coal industry, Japan is aiming for 26 percent of its power generation to come from coal by 2030. Currently, 17 gigawatts of new coal-based power projects are at various stages of development, the journal states.

“Japan, an industrial world leader, has not taken coal off their energy portfolio. They’re sticking with it because they import all of their energy and it’s the most economic means for them to provide low-cost energy,” Thorfinnson says.

Japan gets much of its coal from Indonesia and some from the Powder River Basin, according to Thorfinnson. The delegation of state and university representatives, however, are hoping to drastically increase the amount of imported Powder River Basin coal.

A Japanese delegation is planning to visit Dry Fork Station this fall to tour the largest Integrated Test Center site.

“It was a really good experience for me, personally,” Thorfinnson says. “It was my first exposure to government involvement in promoting interstate resources. Nobody ever sees how their tax dollars are spent to promote the internal resources of the state.”

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