(Wyoming Tribune Eagle, March 15) – Gov. Matt Mead unveiled an updated state energy strategy Monday that seeks to “double down” on the state’s commitment to coal while also growing the state’s burgeoning renewable energy sector.
“I recognize that renewables have an important role now and they will have a greater role later,” Mead said during a news conference at the Herschler Building.
“But there never was a discussion that coal is too tough now and we should move away from coal to renewables.
“In fact, I would say it’s a doubling down on coal while making a very good start on renewables.”
The revised energy plan builds on the original statewide strategy Mead released in 2013.
The update includes 11 new initiatives that span many of the state’s industries.
This includes a “carbon innovation” effort that is intended to further the development of clean-coal technologies and other ways to reduce carbon emissions for conventional fossil fuels.
The initiative specifically calls for state agencies and the University of Wyoming to identify regulatory challenges and find solutions in order to help bring more efficient and environmentally friendly carbon-based projects to market.
This comes as the coal industry has been hit with a string of recent bankruptcies and layoffs as concerns persist over the fuel’s impact on climate change and the environment.
But instead of abandoning coal, Mead said the nation’s top coal-producing state can’t afford to let the industry wither away.
“If there is a concern about coal, how do we address that concern, how do we find an answer, and how do we continue to use the hundreds of years of coal reserves that we have?” Mead said. “And we are not going to get there unless we are part of the solution.”
At the same time, Mead is calling for a new push to develop some of the state’s renewable resources.
An addition to the energy strategy is a goal to expand biomass industries that create energy from plant or plant-based materials, such as beetle-killed pine trees.
Mead also wants to use the Wyoming Business Council to help recruit manufacturing companies that make turbines and other equipment for wind farms.
The governor said the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which is a plan to create a 1,000-turbine wind farm in Carbon County, shows Wyoming can be a leader in wind power.
“So as we recognize what looks like is going to be the nation’s largest wind farm, there also seems to be the opportunity to engage in how we can benefit even more by helping manufacture and maintain (the turbines).”
Mead said incentives will be an option to recruit the companies to the state. But he said he hopes the state’s tax climate and structure will be the main selling point to bring the firms here.
Other initiatives in the updated energy strategy include investing in infrastructure, reviewing the state’s reclamation standards, working with the federal government on Endangered Species Act reforms, the management of invasive species and opening up new uses on restricted federal lands.
No specific timelines were included for the 11 new initiatives. But Mead said he hopes the energy strategy will serve as a “living document” that can be used throughout his remaining term and by the governor who replaces him in 2019.
Mead asked for $500,000 to advance the energy strategy’s initiatives in his 2017-18 biennium budget request. But the Legislature rejected that request during the session that ended this month.
Mead said he was “disappointed” in that decision and said he will ask for the money again in next year’s supplemental budget.
Mead added that 28 of the original 47 energy, conservation and economic development initiatives in the 2013 version of the energy strategy have been nearly or entirely accomplished.
This includes developing a baseline water-testing rule before companies drill for oil or natural gas, promoting liquefied natural gas, and updating the setback requirement for oil and gas operations.
Representatives with Wyoming’s energy and conservation groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Powder River Basin Resource Council, said Monday they are withholding comment on the governor’s new plans until they have time to fully review his update.