Most days, news sources offer articles about changes to Wyoming’s economy and way of life: renewable energy outpacing coal generated electricity, planned early retirements of coal power plants, drought and Colorado River water depletion. But a focus exclusively on Wyoming’s economy seems to create a conflict with the stewardship of our land. Could caring for the climate, land and Wyoming economy be harmonious with caring for Wyoming families and communities? Since April 22 is designated as Earth Day, this month is a natural time to have a conversation about how all these issues are related, maybe even the same. In taking care of our land, we can also take care of our people, Wyoming’s economy can mitigate and adapt to the changing climate.
Solutions to Wyoming’s energy economy, water management, climate change and people’s health are addressed in many ways in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant U.S. federal investment in solving climate change, which unleashes a flurry of real-world benefits for Wyoming people and our natural environment. These include funding to assist in updating homes, buildings and transportation to energy efficient cost-effective technologies available now.
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How this legislation could support Wyoming’s economy depends on whether and how the state and our communities embrace federal funding and tax credits and how our state and local communities prepare and build toward a clean energy future. Also note that the existing Wyoming infrastructure built to support the fossil fuel industry can be adapted to support all the many diverse electricity generation technologies including nuclear power, solar installations, and energy storage facilities, not to mention potential development of the critical mineral industry. Water issues are addressed because renewable energy uses much less water to generate electricity. Water would instead be available for agriculture, communities and natural lands and wildlife. How would a clean energy economy impact the health of Wyoming people? Renewable energy already is less expensive to generate than coal generate electrical energy. Energy efficient homes cost less money to power and heat. Less money spent by families on powering and heating homes allows families more money for health services and frees up the family’s income to allow them to choose best how they care for themselves.
The recent federal legislation has ensured that everyday Americans are now eligible to save thousands of dollars when purchasing electric cars, induction stoves and energy-efficient appliances that will reduce household bills and improve air quality. Families that take advantage of clean energy and electric vehicle tax credits are set to save more than $1,000 per year.
While it is not ideal that Democrats passed the bill through the partisan budget reconciliation process, the climate provisions of the act are shaping up to benefit a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum. Indeed, roughly two-thirds of green-energy projects announced since it became law are going to Republican-held congressional districts.
Here in Wyoming our lawmakers were skeptical, but we’ve already seen an additional offering a 10% tax credit for renewable projects in old coal and oil towns that comes on top of the expanded tax benefits for clean energy under the Inflation Reduction Act. Other opportunities announced included a mapping tool to help investors find areas eligible for tax credits. Also they announce an agreement between federal agencies to collaborate on getting resources to legacy energy communities (that means Wyoming https://www.politico.com/newsletters/power-switch/2023/04/04/biden-wants-coal-country-to-rise-like-a-phoenix-00082767.)
In addition to providing Wyoming jobs, this critical turning point in the U.S.’s clean energy transition will help to stabilize our climate and put us on track to cut carbon pollution by about 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. Sounds like taking care of our natural lands.
However, to update our energy generation system, we need to build it as soon as possible! To do this we need to update the way we permit new energy development. As lawmakers introduce more common-sense climate policy this Congress, it’s time to turn their efforts toward the next big opportunity: clean energy permitting reform.
New transmission lines are vital for moving clean energy from wind and solar generated in rural areas to urban and coastal areas. Building a new transmission line takes over a decade because of the current permitting process. As a result, the expansion of electricity transmission is currently 1% a year — at which rate analysis from Princeton finds that only 20% of the emissions reductions expected from the Inflation Reduction Act will be realized by 2030.
If we can update our permitting process, America will unlock our clean energy potential, reducing air pollution, saving lives, and lowering energy bills.
Like the rest of America, Wyomingites are quickly discovering how thoughtful climate legislation can enhance their quality of life. This Earth Day, we’re already enjoying the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act’s climate provisions with tax credits from updating power and heating systems in our homes. Moreover, Sen. Barrasso is discussing possible on energy permitting reform. Sen. Lummis is taking a lead on addressing Colorado River water issues. I thank them. But let us encourage our Members of Congress to act on and do their utmost to update America’s clean energy permitting process to allow for community and environmentally sensitive, fast-tracking permitting. Wyoming state and federal legislators focused on the energy mix of the past need to turn their gaze in the direction of the rest of the world’s focus, which is the diversity of clean energy generation, so we can prepare for this future.