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RAWLINS, Wyo. — The developer behind Wyoming's first coal-to-gas conversion plant asked state officials for more time to submit a final construction schedule, saying it's not clear when its Chinese construction contractor would be able to start work.

Under state rules, DKRW Advanced Fuels is required to update the state Industrial Siting Council on April 1 about progress on its $1-billion-plus project near Medicine Bow — a project previously slated to start construction early this year.

The company won't know its final project schedule by April 1, DKRW attorney Mary Throne wrote to the council in asking for the delay. Throne is also a state representative from Cheyenne.

DKRW's recently signed contractor — Sinopec Engineering Group, an arm of the giant, Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec — recently told the company it will be available to build the facility "later than anticipated," she wrote.

The company had previously identified early 2013 as a construction date, with a roughly 40-month schedule. The facility would provide more than 2,000 construction jobs and about 400 full-time jobs after completion.

The first-of-its-kind-in-Wyoming plant would use technology developed by General Electric to convert coal to gasoline. The project would be located at the site of the 180-million-ton Carbon Basin coal reserve, owned by Arch Energy, and officials have said they could produce about two barrels of gas for each ton of coal at the site.

But financing issues have delayed the project, which at one point was expected to be ready by 2008.

DKRW had been on the council's schedule for April Fools' Day to present changes to its construction schedule for the project.

The request for a hearing delay angered some on the Carbon County Board of Commissioners. On Tuesday they voted to formally protest the delay, although the commissioners said during a meeting in Rawlins they were unsure the move would mean anything in the long run.

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"It's been eight years that this project's been in play," Commissioner Sue Jones said during the meeting. "It's only fair we come to some kind of decision."

One commissioner, Leo Chapman, voted against the board's motion to protest the continuance, but even he admitted some frustration with the project.

"I'd like to extend it so they have the opportunity to present whatever they hope their changes will be," he said. "But I've seen this thing rattle on a long time, and I don't disagree" with the commission's protest.

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In her letter, Throne wrote that any appearance before the Industrial Siting Council would be premature, noting that any schedule approved next month would be due for updates in a few months.

But the administrator of the state's Industrial Siting Division said by email that he still expects the company to update the Industrial Siting Council at its April 1 meeting in Casper, even if it's simply to receive a continuance.

"At this time, I believe that the meeting is still required by the Industrial Siting Act," Luke Esch said in the email.

In a statement to the Star-Tribune, a company official said the delay would be in the best interest of all parties to the project.

"Dialing in a firm schedule is our singular goal, and we anticipate in the near-term we can relay timeframes to give all parties clear dates," DKRW spokesman Chris May wrote in an emailed statement. "We do this in the interest of Carbon County and the surrounding areas to be specific and accurate in order collectively to plan well for construction and the quality jobs that will be generated."

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