Gov compares wind energy to coal development
Laramie – “We need to move with dispatch,” said Governor Freudenthal as he opened his Wind Energy Symposium in Laramie Aug. 13.
“The Legislature needs to move on those things we can understand now, and it’s important that we take stock and realize we are the generation that will set the basic ground rules for how wind energy will be developed in this state, and it will be developed,” he emphasized. “It has an immense commercial drive behind it.”
A wide range of people composed a full registration of 600 at the symposium, including legislators, county commissioners, state and federal agency personnel, wind energy and transmission representatives, to name just a few.
Main themes emerging from a day and a half full of speakers and presentations include making wind energy self-supportive, ensuring that it adds jobs to Wyoming’s economy and revenue to the state.
Freudenthal compared today’s wind development challenges to what Wyoming went through in the mid-1970s and early 1980s post-oil embargo. “We were in a situation where coal production was four to seven million tons per year, and it was primarily underground and a modest part of the state’s profile,” he said. “Post oil embargo there became a national focus on developing coal, and there became an awareness of some remarkable economies associated with strip mining and at that point Wyoming became action-central for coal development.”
“The numbers were astronomical,” he continued. “The state didn’t have any policies in place, and not because the legislature had failed, but because nobody had anticipated the response to the oil embargo would be coal.”
Freudentahl said he hears some of the same points raised now, exaggerating, “Some people say Western democracy is at risk if we develop wind in Wyoming. On the other hand, some project sponsors say I’m not nice enough so they’re going to leave. I’ve heard all this in the 1970s and it didn’t impress me then and it doesn’t impress me now.”
“We have the capacity in this state to formulate a set of policies that makes for a rational business environment for the private sector activities in wind to be both rewarding to them and of great importance to the state. I believe we can do it, and I don’t think we should be rushed,” he said.
Wind energy has 100 times greater subsidy than oil and natural gas and 60 times greater subsidy than coal. “We have a coming together of regulatory environments in other states and federal incentives that create an environment where wind energy is an incredibly attractive option,” continued Freudenthal. “We have the product, the marketplace has set up demand and there will be movement. One of the great things about the capitalist system is that when the incentives are lined up the process moves.”
Following that, Freudenthal said the next consideration is what’s in it for Wyoming. “It’s what we decide is in it, and how we define the remarkable opportunity,” he said, noting that includes the expectation that developers not only bring turbines but manufacturing plants, construction facilities and jobs to the state.
“We’re not some colony happy to have a whole bunch of towers and no jobs. I take too much grief from the public about the wind turbines, and they’re not worth it unless I can look at them and say there are jobs, revenue and opportunity in them for the state.”
Freudenthal noted the importance of local government in this round of energy development. “There are a whole set of values that need to be reflected in local decision making that the state can’t account for,” he said. “The state has a role in modifying and clarifying the industrial siting council, and securing and allocating revenues.”
Otherwise, he said the only way to resolve the unique challenges associated land use planning and siting wind development is through county governments.
However important wind energy may be for the state in the future, Freudenthal said it’s important wind energy understand it’s one of many economic activities in the state. “With oil, gas, uranium and wind energy potential, this state is in a better position than anybody to make the argument that this country needs a fully diversified energy portfolio,” he said.
Regarding the current concerns with sage grouse and their habitat, Freudenthal said it’s not that he has an obsession with sage grouse, just that he has an obsession with making sure the economy in the state continues to function.
“As long as I’m governor the wind industry will operate by the same set of rules as everybody else, and at the end of the day we cannot end up in a position where one industry compromises the economy of this state because we decided they don’t have to abide by the same rules as everybody else,” he said.
“We need the entire state’s cooperation and we’ve got great cooperation from federal agencies,” said Freudethal. “I don’t like what the Fish and Wildlife Service is saying, but at least they’re saying something.”
“None of the things we hope for out of wind energy will come without transmission,” he said, addressing the current issue of transmission line siting. “Neither the good nor the bad things occur without transmission.”
“I think we have the capacity to generate policies that make sense for us, that respect private property rights and that respect the development of the private economy to develop,” said the Governor. “We can strike the balance that’s essential to keeping the state where it needs to be.”
The important thing moving forward, he said, is to make sure Wyoming gets put in a position where the turbines are viewed as a point of progress, and not monsters.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.