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 to receive the newsletter in your inbox each week here.
The state's largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power, continues to forge ahead with constructing its Aeolus Substation, about 10 miles outside Medicine Bow. Once completed, the substation will be able to collect the energy generated from nearby wind farms and load it onto a transmission line.
Last week, the utility delivered the massive transformers to the site to increase the substation's voltage to 500,000 megawatts. Higher voltage levels help distribute power across transmission lines more efficiently.
Rod Fisher, project manager of Aeolus Substation, compared the substation to an on-ramp of an interstate freeway system, where energy merges onto a transmission network and is transported to other parts of the electric grid.
The 140-mile portion of the Gateway West transmission line, also under construction, will link up to a substation by the Jim Bridger power plant at Point of Rocks. The transmission line will then be able to move energy produced in Wyoming across some of the utility’s multi-state service territory.
The transformers have had a lengthy journey, coming by ship all the way from Japan. About a month ago, they landed in a Houston port where they were then taken by rail to Wyoming. Once in Laramie, they were offloaded onto trucks, making the final leg of their trip to the site near Medicine Bow.
Fisher considers the successful arrival and installation of the transformers a “huge milestone.” He said the utility's massive infrastructure projects in Wyoming couldn't be happening at a better time.
The utility’s enormous undertaking to retrofit Wyoming with state-of-the-art wind power and build necessary transmission lines is employing 1,100 workers this spring.
“That’s an awful lot of benefit to our local communities struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
The utility company is on track to have this project, along with several others, completed by the end of the year. The myriad developments are part of the utility's Energy Vision 2020 — a $3.1 billion renewable energy initiative launched in 2017 to increase the utility's renewable portfolio and save ratepayers costs down the road. By the end of 2020, the utility will have added 1,150 megawatts of new wind resources to the state.
Rocky Mountain Power owns about a dozen wind projects in Wyoming and has several power purchase agreements with companies overseeing a number of additional wind farms in the state. Other wind projects, including TB Flats I and II, Ekola Flats and Cedar Springs, will also come into service this year.
Recently, Rocky Mountain Power fully acquired the state’s first wind facility, Foot Creek in Carbon County, as part of its plan to increase the site’s power capacity by 60 percent. The company’s repowering projects at Dunlap and Foot Creek I facilities are still set to be wrapped up by December too.
Last week's news roundup
- Despite a bumpy start, two of the newest coal firms to mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin are in compliance with tax payment plans established with state and county officials, keeping up with both delinquent and ongoing tax obligations amidst the pandemic.
- A close look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting small businesses in coal-dependent communities, like Glenrock.
- Coal technology company Ramaco Carbon will be teaming up with a U.S. Department of Energy energy laboratory to explore ways to use coal beyond thermal electricity generation. The partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory could advance research into new carbon products.
OIL & GAS
- Wyoming lawmakers are weighing the possibility of dedicating extra funding to oil and gas reclamation efforts to catalyze job growth and spur economic development in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and collapse of oil markets.
- The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee meeting of the Wyoming Legislature proposed funneling an additional $7.5 million to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to support the cleanup of orphan wells and create oil and gas jobs during the economic downturn. The committee also moved to draft a new bill that would cut in half the mineral taxes oil and gas firms must pay the state. The proposed legislation would reduce the severance tax by 50 percent for a consecutive six-month period. The relief would need to be utilized within one year of the price of oil hitting $45 a barrel.
- Several quarterly oil and gas lease sale of public land for energy development have been postponed one by one in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Colorado. But the Bureau of Land Management has not postponed Wyoming's June 22 lease sale, at least not yet.
- The petroleum refinery in Cheyenne owned by HollyFrontier will transition to renewable diesel production and reduce its workforce to meet changing demand for lower carbon fuels.
- Meanwhile, imports of biomass-based diesel, which include renewable diesel, increased by 26 percent in 2019, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Renewable diesel is derived from non-fossil fuel sources, such as animal fats and vegetable oil feedstocks. Along with producing less emissions, renewable diesel has a comparable chemical composition and performance to petroleum diesel.
- Speaking of refineries, petroleum refineries converting crude into fuel in Wyoming apply for annual exemptions from federal Renewable Fuel Standards. But a recent federal court ruling could effectively invalidate exemptions from renewable energy standards for small refineries going forward.
WIND & SOLAR
- As part of its Energy Vision 2020, Rocky Mountain Power is installing four transformers at its Aeolus Substation near Medicine Bow. The substation will funnel energy produced from wind farms in Wyoming to the grid. The utility company is on track to have this project, along with others, completed by the end of the year.
- "The history of America’s public lands and waters is inextricably linked to our history of slavery and racial discrimination, from the displacement of Indigenous communities to the history of racial segregation not only in National Parks, but most public spaces," the Outdoor Alliance wrote in a May 29 statement on the inequities of safe access to public land.
- The Wyoming State Geological Survey published a new report on the salinity in groundwater after studying thousands of water quality tests across the state. Salinity is the solid residue left over after the liquid in water evaporates. “The results of this study show that naturally occurring groundwater salinity varies widely within individual geologic formations, at different depths and throughout the state,” Karl Taboga, a state hydrogeologist, said in a statement.
Last week in numbers
Friday oil prices:
- West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $37.41, Brent (ICE) $39.99
Friday natural gas:
- Henry Hub $1.70, Wyoming Pool $1.60, Opal $1.63
Baker Hughes rig count:
- U.S 284 (-17), Wyoming 1 (-1)
Quote of the week
“It’s pretty tough. I got a lot of loyal people that want this back, they need this back. This community has nothing else like this. But you got to be smart.”
— Gary Eckhardt, owner of Glenrock Bowl
Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry @camillereports
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.