LARAMIE — A few weeks ago, Mark Pedri was riding a Schwinn bicycle 701 miles along Wyoming’s back roads, towing a trailer loaded with camera equipment.
Now he spends his time riding a chair at his apartment in Laramie, editing the footage he shot of energy-related sites around the state for a documentary.
On one of his editing screens, an image of a row of wind turbines stretches across the sky.
“That’s by Arlington,” he said. “Just north of Arlington, a little bit. That’s the wind farm up there.”
The Rock Springs native is making a documentary about energy, the state’s largest industry. It’s a polarizing topic, one which many documentary filmmakers discuss with an agenda in mind.
But Pedri, a communications graduate student at the University of Wyoming, is trying to make something different: A film about energy, specifically energy sources in Wyoming and one in Utah, without the usual bias. What is the best energy? He’ll let viewers decide.
“My job, I feel, is to adequately cover each industry,” he said. “I want to point out the pros and I also want to point out the cons, and I want to see what people are doing to make it better.”
Longtime family friend Reid West, a Sweetwater County commissioner, offered Pedri some ideas and contacts for companies involved in energy in the county.
Sweetwater County is home to the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant, as well as the planned site of new power lines, wind farms and uranium projects, so West had a lot of things to discuss with Pedri.
“I tried not to take a position either way with him,” West said. “Because the whole point of his adventure was to learn more about energy and to come to some conclusions in his mind, I guess, about what he thinks the best path forward is.”
After planning the route from Pinedale to Laramie, Pedri headed out on his Schwinn Moab mountain bike, pulling a roughly 75-pound trailer down dirt or gravel-covered county roads, and fighting flat trailer tires all along the way.
“I tried to stick to county roads, which were graded gravel roads,” he said. “But a few times I got caught on two-track roads, which made pulling the trailer almost impossible.”
For 20 days, from July 24 to Aug. 12, Pedri pedaled from Pinedale through the Jonah natural gas field south to Rock Springs and a natural gas compressor station, the Jim Bridger electricity plant and the Flaming Gorge Dam’s hydropower facility.
Bob Arambel, manager of the Jim Bridger plant, had heard about Pedri’s project. He said he was happy to show Pedri around the plant and explain the good and bad of coal-fired electrical generation, including the ongoing work to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide such plants pump into the sky.
“They’ve all got their problems, there is no perfect energy, and as far as the portion he and I talked about, I felt it was really unbiased,” Arambel said. “And the other impressive part is him pedaling over the whole state — that’s just phenomenal.”
Pedri biked on, through the Red Desert to BP’s natural gas field in Wamsutter, then past wind turbines east to his Laramie endpoint. He spent some nights with friends, others in a tent, and several nights with friendly ranchers he met on his journey.
Now, with better muscle tone and a belt notch thinner, he’s back in Laramie editing dozens of hours of footage into a film that tells the story of his trip and of the energy sources he visited, as well as adding additional footage and information to round out the film.
While the documentary is still evolving, he says he’s stayed true to his original vision of an unbiased presentation of information. He even turned down a cash offer to support his trip, because he wants his film to stay clear of influences that could change its message.
But that doesn’t mean people aren’t already drawing conclusions about his film before it’s finished.
“Obviously there’s going to be a strong opinion within Wyoming,” he said. “Already people are making judgments because they don’t necessarily know. They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just a greenie riding his bike,’ or something like that.”
While the bike trip is over, Pedri is still working to add new interviews and energy to his film. Although he’s not done with the documentary, his trip has already changed his life in simple but deep ways, something he realizes when he’s compelled to flick a switch to use less power.
“I’ve been conserving more energy, mostly because I’ve been like, man, there’s way more that goes into this,” he said. “It’s a luxury item that’s become something we feel we have the right to have.”
Pedri hopes to wrap the film — titled “Energy, Oh Energy” — by the end of February, although he’s not yet sure if he’ll hold viewings around the state and region or save it for a premiere at a film festival and hold out for a deal with a distribution company.
But he hopes it’ll answer some basic questions about energy and where it comes from.
“I think energy is one of those things people take for granted; they just expect their light to turn on when they flip the switch,” he said. “For a lot of people — 70 watts — what does that even mean?”