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Energy Journal: What is Power Wyoming?
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ENERGY JOURNAL

Energy Journal: What is Power Wyoming?

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Glenrock Boom

The sun sets behind an oil pump outside the town of Glenrock on Oct. 14. Converse County, which includes the town of Glenrock, is undergoing an economic boom thanks to the increase of work in the energy sector through oil, gas and wind companies.

Welcome to the Star-Tribune’s Energy Journal, a play-by-play of the past week in Wyoming’s wild world of energy. I’m your energy and natural resources reporter, Camille Erickson. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Power Wyoming: 'A tool, a complete picture, our future'

If you're facing the edge of a canyon and want to cross it, you will need to assess the landscape and conditions first. 

"If it’s the Snake River Canyon, you might build a bridge. But if it’s the Grand Canyon in front of you, a bridge isn’t really reasonable. You may have to take a helicopter (or consider) a very different set of solutions," said University of Wyoming economist Rob Godby.

This is an example Godby uses to describe the purpose of "Power Wyoming," a new multi-pronged initiative launched by Gov. Mark Gordon last month to investigate the future of the state’s energy-dependent economy.

It's a huge undertaking for the interdisciplinary team, which consists of experts from the University of Wyoming, state agency officials and lawmakers.

The task at hand is daunting: consider the whims of a volatile energy sector and identify the economic blows the state might withstand down the road.

"We need to have a complete picture of what the economy is going to look like," Gordon told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday.

He cited the decline in coal demand, foreboding retirements of power plants and a wave of coal company bankruptcies as events that have already disrupted Wyoming's economy. 

Right now, Wyoming primarily relies on coal, oil and natural gas production for revenue streams. But the commodities no longer fetch as much as they once did for the state. 

But it's not all doom and gloom. The Powder River Basin continues to export tons and tons of coal every month. 

"It's not a cliff," Gordon emphasized. "And at the same time, it is important that we look aggressively at how that's going to affect our revenue streams going forward."

Solutions exist for keeping the state fiscally healthy for generations to come. But first, the state needs to understand the extent of economic and policy challenges it will likely contend with ahead, state experts involved with the project underlined.

"The first part of Power Wyoming is just to define what the problem is and what the implications might look like," Godby stated. "You really need to know the details of how this is going to play out to start thinking about good policy."

Initial forecasts don't look rosy. Wyoming will likely face a sustained slump in revenue, jobs and population. Overall mineral revenue could likely decline 10 percent as early as next year thanks to sinking demand for coal, low natural gas prices and an unstable oil market.

The project will be a long haul and involve public input along the way.

"It’s not anywhere close to over yet," Godby said. "This is a complicated problem, you can’t just define a plan in a period of a few weeks or days; this is going to take months." 

COAL

  • A federal judge has ordered bankrupt coal firm Blackjewel to provide additional details on $73,583 of expenses that company attorneys accumulated over three months while coal miners awaited back pay.
  • Meanwhile, legal and consulting firms charged a whopping $5.29 million for fees and expenses extended to Blackjewel during the proceedings, with some firms charging over $1,000 per hour.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy plans to partner with the University of Wyoming to accelerate research on carbon capture technology at two of the state’s coal-fired power plants, Gov. Mark Gordon told the Star-Tribune. "It is important I think as we go forward that we have a clear-eyed look at what the contribution of coal could be," Gordon said.
  • The governor also said last week he continues to consider a possible original lawsuit against the state of Washington  for its decision to block the construction of a coal export terminal.
  • A Colstrip Power Plant owner has accelerated its exit plans by nearly a decade and has agreed to compensate the community.

OIL & GAS

WIND & SOLAR

  • The Industrial Siting Council approved a permit for a 277-turbine wind farm across Albany and Carbon counties.

WILDLIFE

CLIMATE

Last week in numbers

  • Friday oil prices:

    • West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $58.43, Brent (ICE) $63.39

    Friday natural gas:

    • Henry Hub $2.32, Wyoming Pool $2.63, Opal $2.67

    Baker Hughes rig count:

    • U.S 799 (-3), Wyoming 29 (0)

Quote of the week

“The Court understands that expenses naturally occur during a bankruptcy case, especially during the pendency of a case as frantic and time-consuming as the above-captioned matter. However, it is the Court’s duty to the Estate and Unsecured Creditors to question the propriety and necessity for some of these expenses.”

— U.S. District Judge Frank Volk, the judge who ordered bankrupt coal firm Blackjewel to provide additional details on attorney's expenses.

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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