A new economic power for Wyoming?

2013-05-17T05:00:00Z A new economic power for Wyoming? Casper Star-Tribune Online
May 17, 2013 5:00 am

Lost energy and lost money for Wyoming may literally be water under the bridge.

Last week, a report confirmed that Wyoming is ripe for hydropower and also has done little to develop this valuable, renewable resource.

Star Tribune Energy Reporter Adam Voge said, “The Idaho National Laboratory estimates more than 500 megawatts of hydropower is yet to be developed here. Another study, by the Bureau of Reclamation, and related to government-controlled properties only, adds another 23 megawatts to the picture.”

These numbers are significant enough that the state should take a longer, more detailed look at hydropower.

Hydropower could prove to be important on several different fronts.

First, hydropower could help us diversify our energy portfolio. And while Wyoming will continue to rely on natural gas, oil and coal, Wyoming is poised to become a wind energy leader and should, if possible, add hydropower to that portfolio. In many ways, diversifying its energy portfolio is part of the key to the long-term health of Wyoming. We can’t rely on the certainty of natural gas or coal alone. Doing that may continue to put us into volatile boom and bust cycles.

Adding hydropower helps diversify the types of energy we produce and continues to mean that we rely on domestic energy more and foreign energy less.

Moreover, we’ve talked often about the need for Wyoming’s economy to diversify. Often, talks of economic diversification have intentionally and rightfully moved away from energy sectors. We can see evidence of that diversification initiative as Wyoming becomes home to high-tech companies. And yet, for all the good reasons Wyoming needs to diversify in order to have a robust economy, it also needs to make sure that its energy sector is also diversified.

One of the obstacles that has kept hydropower from developing more robustly in the state has been bureaucracy and too many hurdles for development.

Voge reported, “Some possible projects have been left undeveloped because of technological concerns. Bureaucracy has blocked others, adding review and application processes too expensive for some small developers to handle.”

If the state is serious about developing this new energy source, which could be a boon for the economy as well as continuing to add power to the grid, it needs to figure out how to make the permitting and review process less cumbersome.

We believe Gov. Matt Mead’s energy policy is a step in that direction. However, if hydropower is going to become a larger player, we most continue to look for ways to encourage this renewable resource. In other words, it must be seen as an economic driver. And, it could mean the state, like it has with wind energy, considers economic incentives to make this a reality.

It seems like Wyoming is exceedingly good at using its natural resources. Wyoming uses its expansive lands to raise beef, sheep and even wild game herds. It uses its wind to power a green energy revolution. Now, it should harness its most precious natural resource, water, to an economic and energy advantage.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Pops
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    Pops - May 23, 2013 9:10 am
    A new economic drain for Wyoming? I'm pleased we have done little to damage our natural drainage. The water runs where gravity takes it. Keep Wyoming flowing.
  2. Camp Creek
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    Camp Creek - May 18, 2013 1:33 pm
    Once again, it's "all energy, all the time" in Wyoming. Isn't it time to outgrow the "resource curse" and build a robust, diversified economy?
  3. Pops
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    Pops - May 18, 2013 10:13 am
    I have a thought on humanities personal importance. (You have little effect on our universe and its' momentum, Take full advantage of this opportunity.) @ pop news 2013
  4. Cody Coyote
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    Cody Coyote - May 18, 2013 9:31 am
    Yes, the most efficient means to extract hydropower from the water resource is to dam it and install turbines. Problem is, dams create a whole set of other issues. Impoundment of free flowing streams; fisherie foofawraw, continuous accumulation of silt, wholesale changes to the ecosystem, a false sense that a new lake ( reservoir) is always a good thing here in a semi-arid desert, and so on. Dams look good on paper, but in the natural world they are barriers and a unnatural...overlaying a bureaucracy on the landscape does not improve it. They also do NOT pay for themselves under the current heavily subsidized government sponsored taxpayer funded model that the Bureau of Reclamation has been using since the days of Herbert Hoover.

    Back in the early 90's, Wyoming entered into a 50/50 partnership with BuRec to enlarge Buffalo Bill Dam, adding 25 feet to its height. Cost nearly 200 million, including the new powerplant for hydropower. I asked the project superintendent at the time if Buffalo Bill had paid for itself to date, and would it reimburse the state/fed tax rolls going forward. He frankly said No, it would not and has not....not when the total costs are considered, the subsidies reckoned, and the cash flow analyzed. The new powerplant at Buffalo Bill does not even generate enough electricity to power the city of Cody. A large concrete dam is by definition a boondoogle.

    But here's the dark secret about them : only the federal government can build a big dam and do Big Hydropower in most all cases. There are exceptions: the Greybull River in Park-Big Horn County has three quasi-private dams owned by the co-op of farmers. But they too are heavily subsidized and resource usurpers ... and do no generation of electricity at all. Truth be told the US Army Corps f Engineers exists entirely at the whim of COngress appropriating money for specific projects. Everything they do is an earmark. The Bureau of Reclamation is an agency from the past , an anachronism , an agency that desperately needs new projects and missions to even exist going forward. It accomplished what it set out to do in the last century . The BuRec has built NO new dams since the 1960 Yellowtaill Dam on the Big Horn River just downstream of the Wyoming border in Montana. No new projects have been authorized since the 60's. Beyond the day-to-day management of existing dams , the Bu Rec is a dinosaur in this century . It's big dams are slowly constipating with silt.

    Look at the map: these days, the projects proposed are not to build new dams, but to remove the old dams. We are de-building dams these days, for the reasons alluded to above. Dam Deconstruction.

    So any ploy to advance large wholesale government hydropower in the West is just a scheme to keep the BuRec from going extinct. Please conciser that in the equations advancing any presumed goal of new major hydropower. The choice damsites in Wyoming are taken. They already have dams in them. Dams are damnations.

    The only practical means of doing hydropower then is micro-turbines....small plants on small streams that do not affect the volume or speed or otherwise disrupt the stream they occupy. But micro-turbines are point source small user, output measured in hundreds or a few thousand watts, not megawatts. Siting them has to be done exceedingly carefully to avoid environmental consequences.

    The Hippopotamus in the room is the inescapable evidence that global climate change will be radically downsizing Wyomng's water supply in our lifetimes. The glaciers are melting. The snowpacks aren't there like the used to be. Winter is warmer and 4 weeks shorter than it was in grandpappy's day. Is it really feasible to build big new dam projects in an uncertain hydrology climate ? Probably not.

    The answer is in wind power, solar power, some yet undeveloped biomass power, and neo-nuclear. But Wyoming has an aversion to all of those , beyond wanting to sell uranium. Guess what ? ---when it comes to nuclear power in the future, all new reactors will have no need of Wyoming's uranium. They would want our thorium, though, if we had any.

    Governor Mead just published his Wyoming energy plan after two years of deliberating on it. It is mostly agnostic or even antagonistic towards alternative energy sources, giving them only lip service and vaccuous promises. Mead's energy plan is still wholly subservient to hydrocarbons...coal, gas, oil. Fossil fuels. Dinosaur dung.

    Mead's energy plan can be slightly editted to become an Operator's Manual for a hydrocarbon cathouse, a bureaucratic brothel. Sell our bodies of coal and gas as fast as we can get it out of the ground and onto the street. it's all about the money made and little to nothing about the consequences of peddling carbon. It was an extreme disappointment in its narrowmindedness , and shows how disconnected Wyoming is from the reality of the rest of the world. It needs to have cold water thrown on it.

    THAT we have water enough impounded to do.
  5. messin'withu
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    messin'withu - May 17, 2013 8:43 am
    Please correct me if I am wrong. Doesn't Hydro Power require building Dams? I admit that I am not up to speed on this subject but damming the free flowing water in our state would cause colossal damage to the wildlife, leased grazing lands, developed farm land, recreational areas and whats left of the natural beauty of Wyoming. As I said before, I don't know the current science on Hydro Power but it seems that these are sacrifices that would be hard to justify. Just sayin'.
  6. thehousemouse
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    thehousemouse - May 17, 2013 6:22 am
    I agree on hydro Power energy. shale, gas, and oil and coal. This is wyoming this is what we do. I do however object to wind energy or at least this design that we are currently using instead of the new designs that are less intousive, better producing, and cause no injusry to birds. they spin like a christmas tree. check them out japan is using them and have reported a reduction on bird deaths by over 80% . Wind energy is expensive to build, maintain and so far in wyoming can not be stored. Wind needs sustudies, and some i know will say so does oil and gas, but the returns are far different. oil gas and coal make big bucks for the state, far monre then 1000 terbines could. so i would say yes to hydro, i would say yes to terbines if they use the newest designs. But we must protect what has made wyoming strong and that is oil, gas, and coal. .
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