It draws tourists who stop by to look for local fossils, even though its elevation is higher than its population. However, different types of fossils, or fossil fuels, produce the best jobs. Three power plants are powered by a coal mine and gas wells, which together employ around 450 people. However, Kemmerer officials see the writing on the wall with declining use of fossil fuel and all the efforts to migrate to cleaner energy.
In a recent interview on CBS Sunday Morning, Bill Gates talked about his decision to bring his new nuclear energy to this remote part of Wyoming. Kemmerer will be the site of his ten-year-old energy company TerraPower’s first power plant.
Kemmerer Mayor Bill Thek says his town is no stranger to American entrepreneurs. JC Penny opened its first store in Kemmerer in 1902 before going nationwide. Now, the town has a 21st-century business hero.
Since Wyoming is a conservative state, you wouldn’t expect much positive would be said about Bill Gates, but his new nuclear technology is part of a green energy push that much of the town sees as a positive move forward.
Solar and wind only work when the weather is right, but nuclear works 24 hours a day without spewing out climate-changing greenhouse gasses. The new plant could be in operation by 2029, using a next-generation technology called natrium, which is the Latin name for sodium. Sodium-cooled reactors are three times more efficient than traditional water-cooled reactors, which means significantly less nuclear waste.
Gates told his interviewer that the amount of nuclear waste generated over the plant’s first decade would be less than the size of a big room. So, waste disposal is also not an issue.
The promise of a new plant has bulldozers at work as out-of-town developers like David Jackson think they're building into a boom. The first of 2,500 workers who will construct the plant are already doing site surveys. There will be 300 workers running the plant once it comes online.
Today's coal plant workers may also win by getting new jobs, says Roger Holt, a manager at the coal plant, and Mark Thatcher, a retired coal miner.
"You know, this is a new design nuclear reactor, but it's still going to end up generating steam, turning a steam turbine," Holt said. "You're gonna have a lot of the same equipment that we use right now to generate power. So, a lot of what we do will be transferable."
"Isn't jobs the real answer here, that what you're bringing to this community is a chance to continue going on after their legacy of coal and gas is over?" the interviewer asked Gates.
"Exactly. You know, when that coal plant is shutting down, the ability of this community to keep young people and still be vibrant is under threat," Gates said.