RIVERTON — At least one “big idea” came out of the recent meeting of the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming executive council in Riverton.
During a presentation at the Wind River Casino, council member John Temte suggested that the state attract new industries by giving away free electrical power.
“Wyoming has to get its mojo going—get its identity (back),” he said. “(We need) a way to leverage what we have, what’s really valuable, what we do best.”
And what is it Wyoming does best? Produce power, Temte said—especially using coal.
“We have a tremendous opportunity because of our coal resource,” he said. “Coal, in my opinion, is our ace in the hole ... and we’re not using it. We’re thinking about it the wrong way.”
He acknowledged that the coal industry is facing “certain barriers” or “headwinds” due to a growing desire to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, but Temte said the state should be able to overcome those obstacles in order to “leverage our biggest asset.”
“Carbon neutral is a big deal in this world—it’s a big deal to companies,” he said. “But we’re the state of Wyoming. ... We have the natural resources to produce a heck of a lot of power, and I think we do that really well. ...
“We really need to take control of what we’re working with and crank it up.”
Temte suggested that the state could enter into a purchase agreement to buy power from a utility then offer the energy free of charge to businesses Wyoming is trying to attract.
The state also could take over a power plant that is about to go out of commission, he said, or even build its own “cutting-edge small coal-fired power plant” equipped with advanced technology to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions while piping excess CO2 to nearby oil fields to enhance recovery there.
The idea generated excitement from other council members, who applauded his willingness to “be bold” and “think outside the box.” But council member Bob Viola cautioned that the idea wouldn’t work “without the power generation component.”
“If we buy the power (from someone else) and provide it to the business, in essence we’re creating a cash incentive,” Viola said. “The big (idea) is to turn that coal into electricity. So I’d urge you to make that ... an essential element.
“Maybe this is a small-scale coal-fired power plant predicated on best practices of the 21st century.”
Council member Bill Schilling imagined pushback to the idea would involve comments about permitting delays making it difficult to build new coal-fired power plants, but Temte called those “small issues.”
“Endow I think is in a prime position to ... solve that problem,” he said. “We’re asking the state to clear pathways and make investments in the future. This would be a tremendous investment in the future.”
Endow chair Greg Hill agreed that the concept would involve an investment by the state, which could build for example, a “combined-cycle coal-fired power plant” and sell the energy produced “at cost.”
“(The state) wouldn’t expect a return on that,” Hill said. “That capital investment is an investment in growing these (other) economic sectors.”
Temte noted that the power wouldn’t be “free forever.” Instead, he said, the state could supply incoming businesses with subsidized power for a set period of time through an agreement that could be extended in the future or eliminated.
“It’s something that can be tailored to fit their needs,” he said, adding, “We could ... design it to be targeted to certain industries.”
The incentive would be most effective for companies that utilize a lot of energy, Temte continued.
“It would be a magnet like no other around the world,” he said. “It would really bring some exciting things to the state overnight.”
Earlier this week, State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, expressed skepticism of the idea at a legislative committee meeting, suggesting it would raise the price of utilities for other Wyoming users.
He said Endow members need to talk to utility companies before moving forward with the idea.
“It’s astounding to me that someone would say ... let’s recruit people that are apparently very electricity intensive and then pull the rug from under them down the road after they only develop inefficient non-green technology,” Case said.
Jerimiah Rieman, who serves as Gov. Matt Mead’s director of economic diversification strategy and initiative, asked whether Temte had considered applying the concept to other energy sources like natural gas or wind. Temte replied that alternative sources of power also could be used to produce a “carbon-neutral subsidy.”
“If we can do it with coal I think we can do it with natural gas,” he said.
Temte’s biography says he is the founder and managing general partner for Temte Capital, “an alternative investment manager specializing in technology and energy investing,” according to the company’s website.