Exploring Wind Conference highlights challenges, opportunity in wind energy
Laramie – “Wyoming’s Wind Energy Future” headlined a two-day conference in Laramie on Oct. 2-3, which brought together stakeholders from diverse perspectives to discuss the status of the wind industry and where areas for discussion and development lie.
“Wyoming is an energy state, and we’re rich in natural resources, not only in minerals, but in wind and soil,” says Mindy Benson, dean of the Haub School of Energy Resources. “We value our open spaces, our wildlife and finding a way to balance all of these opportunities and benefits.”
Nearly 220 attendees were involved in the conference, which was convened by the Ruckelshaus Institute and Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy.
Wyoming State Treasurer Mark Gordon opened the conference, noting that Wyoming has extensive resources and opportunity.
“In some respects, energy supply problems have been solved,” Gordon said. “There is, in fact, an abundance of all kinds of energy. We have coal, oil, gas, uranium and a lot of sun and wind.”
“We have so much energy in this country that we can have strong opinions about how it is generated, used, transformed and consumed,” Gordon continued. “This is a pivotal and important time for energy because we stand at the point of tremendous technology change.”
Gordon emphasized that opportunities to utilize technology, capture energy, manage energy use, deliver a cleaner and more reliable stream of electricity to consumer means that many new pioneering efforts are underway.
“This is an incredible time to be alive,” he said.
Rod Godby, director of the UW Energy Economics and Public Policy Center, said that there are many issues involved in exploring wind energy.
“Energy has a lot of choices,” he explained. “We have preferences and concerns with energy, but we’re not limited. There is a lot of change going on in our energy environment.”
Several disruptive trends in the energy industry necessitate the need for continued exploration of new energy sources.
“There has been a loss of coalmining jobs, conversations about fracking and an explosion of renewables,” Godby said. “We have to look at what we want to see happen and what the trade-offs will be.”
Nationally, employment will also be a factor in the energy future.
Godby noted that Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that available positions for wind technicians are expected to grow by 108 percent from 2014-24.
“The next highest rate of job growth in any other field is 50 percent,” he said.
At the same time, the portion of electricity production attributed to renewable resources was 18 percent, as of June 2017.
“If we combine renewable energy sources with nuclear, almost 40 percent of our electricity comes from carbon-free sources,” Godby said. “We used to think of electricity as carbon-intensive, but that is changing.”
He said, “There are going to be significant changes in how we produce electricity.”
Another driver in looking at wind technology is cost.
“Renewable costs have declined significantly,” Godby explained, noting that cost of production, development, optimization, decommission and teardown of wind turbines all affect the cost of the energy produced. “Costs add up, but we have seen a 66 percent decline in cost of wind energy production.”
He added, “We expect this to fall 30 to 50 percent by the end of the next decade.”
He also noted that production tax credits have also done their job in developing wind as a new technology and bringing it forward. Those subsidies end in 2020, he noted.
“Wind is cheaper than all other sources of new generation,” Godby said. “The low cost is a reality, and that drives the potential for new capacity.”
“Change is happening, and cost is part of the opportunity,” he added.
Godby and Gordon agreed that public policy has an instrumental role.
“Is public policy up to the task of supporting the transition to a new energy future, or will policy hold it back?” Gordon asked. “We hope that our responses will affect Wyoming beneficially.”
The impact to jobs, hunting, fishing, wildlife, tourism and more are all questions that must be answered, Gordon added.
Godby noted that policies drive markets and influence how people make choices based on incentives.
“There are social challenges, too,” Godby said, mentioning workforce availability and capacity as examples. “States like Wyoming have a real challenge in dealing with these questions.”
“We have choices with our energy,” he added. “Like Treasurer Gordon said, it’s not about having enough energy. It’s about what we’re going to use, and there are issues with many pieces – including taxation, operations, technology, capacity and more.”
Future of energy
To move forward with wind energy, Godby said several things are necessary.
“We need more cost reductions and transmission,” he said. “We need to take advantage of geographic diversification to get around intermittency issues, and we need to use the grid intelligently.”
With change comes new challenges, Godby noted.
“Our energy future is not binary,” Gordon emphasized. “It is exciting that we have so many options and the time to invest.”
He added, “Our choices will have consequences for workers, industries and communities. Our future will reflect the communities and skills that enable workers and companies alike to capture and capitalize on the flows of energy markets.”
Policy choices will impact the future, Gordon said, adding, “There is no question Wyoming’s wind portfolio will be meaningful to the national. This industry should complement, rather than threaten, our other energy resources.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.