Cowboy Up Wyoming
By F.E. “Wally” Wolski
A couple of years ago, I served as a member of the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) Executive Council tasked with developing a 20-year economic development strategy. I still recall our in-depth discussions on how Wyoming must be prepared to take action when economic opportunities come knocking at the door.
Well my friends, the future is upon us and we are experiencing a major problem. Wyoming is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. Even after cutting over 20 percent from the state budget, Wyoming is still confronted with a $250 million deficient.
The ability to rely on royalties from the production of energy and minerals is in serious jeopardy. Wyoming citizens have benefited from residing in a mineral-rich state. We have become accustomed to receiving essential services costing approximately 10 times the annual amount collected in personal taxes – this advantage is almost exclusively from living in a mineral-rich state.
Those glorious ol’ days seem to be rapidly fading away. Federal regulators have declared war on the coal industry, while advocacy groups portray fossil fuels as the root of everything negatively associated with our environment.
Cost prohibitive clean-air mandates have dramatically reduced the demand for Powder River coal. Even the California wildfires last summer were blamed on Wyoming because of our mining of coal.
Wyoming is faced with two choices. Either concede to the demise of using Powder River coal as the fuel source to generate reliable, affordable electricity or respond the way Wyoming folks usually react – finding a commonsense solution by coming together and working for the better good.
To worsen the current situation, out-of-state investor-owned utilities have chosen to abandon traditional coal-fired generation.
The recent lesson learned in Texas – a catastrophe caused in part due to the decline of dependable 24/7/365 baseload generation is being discounted by detractors of sustainable power. While wind power must remain part of the energy mix, baseload generation needs to remain more than a backup convenience benefiting renewable energy producers.
Publicly elected legislators working on behalf of stakeholders and constituents must be willing to address the future sustainability of coal-fired generating facilities within our state boundaries. Wyoming can become a national leader in retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants with proven carbon-capture technologies by converting electrons produced by using coal as a fuel into environmentally friendly green electrons.
For the past several years, the legislature has urged research and made investments in carbon technologies. How can Wyoming remain an advocate for promoting the export of Powder River coal if it is not willing to take a proactive stance of preserving our own existing coal-fired power plants?
Wyoming has a golden opportunity for demonstrating to the rest of the states the practicality of sustainable 24/7/365 coal-fired generation, thus creating increased demand for Wyoming’s greatest natural resource Power River coal.
Carbon-capture legislation helps protect the reliability of our energy portfolio while safeguarding against what happened in Texas. The proposed legislation directs utilities to continue operating baseload 24/7/365 coal-fired generation by retrofitting their power plants with carbon-capture technologies.
If any utility is unwilling to comply with these requirements, provisions already exist to facilitate the sale of the baseload power generation to qualified buyers as an alternative option.
The Department of Energy just announced up to $40 billion dollars in loan guarantees for clean air ventures including projects to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions in deep rock formations. The announcement said 40 percent of the funds are going to be targeted to disadvantaged states affected by lay-offs in the energy sector.
Wyoming and instate coal-fired power plant owners may be eligible recipients for an unprecedented economic incentive, but only if carbon-capture legislation is successfully passed into law.
Wyoming has a unique chance to be viewed by groups who are in similar situations, as the solution-provider rather than part of the problem to further negatively impact coal-fueled power generation in the United States. Wyoming is a global leader for carbon-sequestration with its Department of Energy grant for CarbonSafe Phase III and the Integrated Test Center near Gillette.
Let’s become a national leader in carbon-capture implementation as well and the new Silicon Valley of the West for the energy sector by converting coal into green energy. The long-term benefits far outweigh the near-term opposition.
Now is a perfect time for Wyoming leaders to cowboy up and embrace carbon capture as the logical course of action for establishing a solid foundation for an economic and practical Wyoming future. The ball is in the legislature’s court and the public is watching from the sideline awaiting the final outcome.
F. E. “Wally” Wolski has served as the Wyoming state director of U.S. Departmet of Agriculture Rural Development, is a past president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and former chairman of Goshen County Commissioners. He farms near Yoder.