Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Ryan: Bill would block energy choice, independence in Wyoming

Ryan: Bill would block energy choice, independence in Wyoming

  • 0

The coal industry is in trouble.

Coal’s share of the country’s electricity mix dropped from about 50 percent in 2007 to just 33 percent today. In 2015 alone, the U.S. coal industry’s earnings fell 25 percent. That’s a scary reality in a place like Wyoming, where much of the economy comes from fossil fuels. In contrast, solar energy growth more than doubled in 2016 from the already record-breaking growth the year before. But instead of working toward forward-thinking solutions for the state, politicians in Wyoming are choosing to bury their heads in the sand about the future of energy and place a losing bet on dying fossil fuel industries.

State Sen. Larry Hicks introduced a bill recently that would, if passed, prohibit utilities from providing any electricity from large-scale wind or solar to the state by 2019 – regardless of what Wyomingites might want or what makes business sense.

The bill is seemingly spurred by fear as coal workers saw mass layoffs from two of the top coal plants in the state in the past two years. Legislators are acting as if, by preventing other forms of energy from entering the mix, Wyoming could prevent future job losses. But that’s just not true – and, in fact, by blocking renewable energy development, they’re stifling job growth in the state.

The reality is that coal use is plummeting nationwide, and Wyoming is exporting less than in years past. Job losses in the industry will continue whether or not Wyoming adopts renewable energy choices. And here’s the kicker: Wind and solar are growing rapidly; growth that is expected to continue indefinitely.

This past year, 63 percent of all new utility-scale electricity generation in the United States came from renewable sources, primarily wind and solar. Nationwide, solar energy now employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined. Iowa, another state once largely dependent on coal, now gets 31 percent of its power from wind energy. In Texas wind power makes up 16 percent of the electricity mix and is now cheaper than oil and gas, creating tens of thousands of local jobs in the process.

The same could happen in Wyoming. According to a 2015 study out of Stanford University, if Wyoming were to fully embrace its renewable energy potential, more than 20,000 good-paying jobs could be created in the state by 2050. And in addition to job creation, ramping up clean energy in Wyoming and other states could help the United States move toward energy independence and cut our reliance on foreign oil.

It’s important to remember that, with clean energy, it’s not just our economy that wins. By embracing wind and solar, Wyoming’s water, air and wildlife could also benefit greatly. Both energy sources require virtually no water use relative to coal, oil and gas. In a state with decade-long drought conditions, that’s a big deal. And, unlike most other energy sources, air quality is not affected by wind or solar – that’s good for the health of workers and communities, as well as the health of the planet. Similarly, large wind and solar farms that are well-sited and planned have only minimal effects on wildlife.

But Wyoming’s legislature could prevent any of these benefits from even being available to their own constituents. By blindly and desperately prohibiting utilities from generating electricity from clean and reliable energy sources, Wyoming legislators are slamming the door on opportunity and depriving Wyomingites of the ability to support diverse energy sources that will help the country to move toward energy independence and bring long-term job creation to the state.

Greer Ryan is a sustainability research associate at the Center for Biological Diversity.


Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

McGinley writes: 

The problem however is not our great Republican Party, the problem is those currently in power have twisted the meaning of being Republican. They are willing to name call, lie, manipulate, intimidate and bully to maintain their small sliver of power. However, there is hope, you are the solution to this problem!

  • Updated

Hauptman writes of a population census showing an increase of bald eagles of the lower 48 states: Good news... as we reflect on the 50 years since the Wyoming eagle killings of 1971.

On May 1 1971 two Casper high school youth traveled to Jackson Canyon a few miles southwest of Casper to hike and rock climb. A mile into the canyon, they found the remains of seven bald eagles later determined poisoned...

Rudkin writes: 

Tom and I have laughed with our family about how safe it is to leave us two old people living in the country by ourselves...and herein lies her story!

  • Updated

Malberg writes:

It is little wonder Wyoming officials felt it was necessary to file suit to protect the state’s citizens. Since the moratorium, gasoline prices have been increasing. Proponents of the president’s action may argue gasoline prices are all about supply and demand, not about a moratorium on leasing.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News