This session’s crop of consequential energy bills can largely be sorted into two categories: those aiming to bolster Wyoming’s fossil fuels industry and those erecting cautious sideboards for the expanding renewable energy sector.
Legislation employed mechanisms ranging from mandate to litigation to repeal and boycott to achieve those goals. Fewer than half of the 14 major pieces of energy legislation are still in play as of Friday.
It’s been a scattershot approach, according to the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Energy and Climate Policy Director John Burrows, that’s done little to preserve the state’s fossil fuel industries or capitalize on the growing interest in, and economic opportunities of, transitioning to cleaner energy.
“This year it’s been a collage of bills related to energy with lots of talk and honestly not a whole lot to show for it,” he said. He believes much of the talk should continue in the interim to generate more solutions-based approaches, he said.
For example, one bill attempting to repeal net-metering for rooftop solar — which the Outdoor Council opposed — ultimately failed but generated hours of public and legislative discussion, proving public interest is ample on that topic.
One mounting issue in the state that the Legislature didn’t take on, Burrows added, is the potential industrialization of undisturbed lands for commercial-scale wind and solar development.
“This is a really important issue that most folks agree on when we think about renewable energy siting, to ensure that we are protecting valuable habitats and landscapes from new development,” Burrows said.
The primary legislative approach this session to help preserve Wyoming’s shrinking coal industry has been to delay the retirement of coal-fired power plants. Lawmakers turned primarily to state mandates to accomplish this aim.
Senate File – 142 Carbon capture and sequestration builds on past legislation to force a business arrangement that results in retrofitting a coal unit with carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technology. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), presumes that taking the CO2 that’s captured at the smokestack and pumping it into oilfields to produce oil would generate more than enough revenue to pay for a CCUS retrofit.
But conservationists, economists and state officials alike worried that SF 142 goes too far, and would likely expose ratepayers to a costly technology application that’s so far unproven.
“Despite all of these various scenarios and studies, none have resulted in a commercially and economically viable means of retrofitting these coal-fired facilities [with CCUS] in a manner that does not result in significant cost increases and long term risks that are going to be borne by Wyoming utility ratepayers,” Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate Anthony Ornelas told lawmakers this week.
The bill has yet to receive a vote in the House Appropriations Committee despite close to three hours of discussion and public testimony over two meetings.
House Bill 193 – Carbon capture energy standards-repeal would have ended Wyoming’s existing CCUS mandates for coal-fired power plants. That measure met a quick death when it failed introduction on the House floor.
Litigation is the preferred method to keep Wyoming coal flowing to other states.
House Bill 69 – Coal-fired facility closures litigation funding-amendments sailed through the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon Feb. 15. It re-appropriates funds that were set aside years ago to sue entities opposing West coast coal port expansions — a legal battle that Wyoming and Montana lost in 2020.
Now, Gordon’s office has $1.2 million to, instead, hire attorneys to challenge coal-fired power plant closures proposed in other states.
On the renewable energy front, Senate File 92 – Small customer electrical generation would have repealed net-metering for small rooftop solar arrays.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), was an attempt to prevent ratepayers without rooftop solar from subsidizing those with solar arrays, he said. But opponents argued that any amount of subsidization — if any exists — is minor and not worth scrapping a regulated utility’s obligation to compensate homes and businesses that pump solar-generated electricity back into the grid.
“We continue to hear from communities and members that they’d like to see an increase in the net-metering cap that is currently being placed on small-scale distributed solar and wind, especially for local governments,” Burrows of the Wyoming Outdoor Council said.
The bill failed to move out of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
House Bill 106 – Eminent domain-wind energy collector systems would have imposed a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for wind energy. The bill was sent to the governor’s desk, but Gordon vetoed it because the measure “would interfere with the rights of private landowners to exercise their private property and contractual rights, as well as their right to contract with whomever they choose,” he said.
Wyoming lawmakers also proposed a ban: Senate Joint Resolution 4 – Phasing out new electric vehicle sales by 2035. The measure failed to make it out of the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. Backers, however, claimed it achieved its intent by making national headlines with the message that some carbon emission-cutting efforts just aren’t practical in Wyoming.
Fearing a “social” threat to the state’s fossil fuel industries, two bills would have boycotted contractors and investment funds that tout environmental, social and governance missions: Senate File 159 – Stop ESG-Eliminate economic boycott act and Senate File 172 – Stop ESG-State funds fiduciary duty act.
Both measures were still alive as of this publication, but faced mounting skepticism with some noting that even several of Wyoming’s biggest fossil fuel companies, including coal producer Arch Resources and natural gas producer Jonah Energy, have ESG missions.
“The question is, are we biting off our noses to spite our own face,” Rep. Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne) said this week. “I don’t think it’ll be possible for us to do this without losing money.”
Legislating energy priorities
Though lawmakers committed to revisiting many of the failed energy bills in the interim, observers said energy legislation this session made for a lot of talk about Wyoming energy priorities without much to show for a state in the midst of a major energy transition.
“It was a lot of rhetoric,” Powder River Basin Resource Council attorney and lobbyist Shannon Anderson said. “It’s the implementation of that rhetoric where they’re running into trouble.”
As an exporter of electricity and fossil fuel commodities, Wyoming has always been a “market taker,” Anderson said. And it seems lawmakers are struggling with how the state can transform its fossil fuel wealth into market power.
“The market is headed one way and Wyoming is running in the opposite direction,” Anderson said. “We throw up these bills, but they’re either too extreme or they’re not actually going to make a difference.”
Carrying good discussions on failed energy bills into the interim “is a good thing, actually,” Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti said.
In some cases, lawmakers may have taken on approaches to Wyoming’s energy challenges that are difficult to enact, Deti said. But he’s been impressed with a willingness to take on big, difficult energy issues.
“What the legislative role can be is the work they’ve done with the University of Wyoming, the School of Energy Resources and that sort of thing” to push energy research and development, he said. “Provide funding for those things … and they’ve been generous in that.”
The Wyoming legislature (Utah’s is the same) needs to stop tilting at windmills and support them instead.
Wyoming leadership , both legislative and executive , refuses to believe the science and the market economics that state in 50 foot tall red letters on the wall that Fossil Fuels are on their way down and out. Anyone who does their own critical thinking after taking an honest look at the situation has known this for more than 20 years. Just not our leadership . Our leadership has refused to take off the blinders and remove the headphones provided them by the fossil fuel lobby. They never sobered up from those oil booms. They need to go cold turkey on their addiction to mainlining carbon molecules.
Coal is dying, so quit kicking that horse with your steel toed cowboy boots. Natural gas is jackbooting Wyoming producers by lowballing the wholeslae prices and gouging up the retail prices of the stuff while paying a pittance in ad valorem taxes on it at the wellhead… 1/10th the value of the consumer price by the time the gas gets to your meter. And to be blunt about it, Big Oil has NEVER been Wyoming’s friend. The Petrocracy has run roughshod over our state since the Eisenhower Era. Even when the fossil fuel Robber Barons are in bed with our legislators and leaders, the copulation is brutal.
Wyoming is a victim of its own archaic Fossil Thinking about Fossil Fuels. Our carbonized chieftains would rather blame environmentalists and progressives as the source of our hydrocarbon depravity than acknowledge the obvious fact of the matter. Fossil fuels are going away after a 200 year run. Wyoming can do little to prevent that or prolong their us. The Petrocracy and Hydrocarbon Hegemony have used Pavlovian conditioning to train Wyoming to keep promoting fossil fuels to the bitter end. The governor and lawmakers salivate as they loyally do the bidding of their carbon handlers. Until the day when those handlers …just…walk…away , with heartless abandonment. How many times have see seen this already ? So many. Don’t those 8,000 orphaned and abandoned wells not speak to us ?
How stupid of Wyoming to have not taken the billion$ in Permanent Mineral Trust Fund dollar$ and invest in alternative energy and diversified technologies … starting 30 years ago. Wyoming foolishly believed the world would always buy as much oil, gas, and coal as we could produce for as far into the future as they could see.
Yeah , right. Fossil Thinking is futile.
I agree with your assessment that fossil fuels are on the way out, but perhaps Wyoming has another ten to twenty years of the fossil fuel industry laying golden tax revenue eggs for the state. The fossil fuels industry has carried the tax burden for as long as I remember. Compared to the rest of the country, Wyoming has some of the lowest home property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, inheritance taxes, and corporate taxes. That is mostly due to all the taxes on fossil fuels. The tax rates in Wyoming on fossil fuels are comparable to other fossil fuel producing states. Wyoming has not given a free pass to the fossil fuel industry.
With all that said, there is not much the legislature can do to change the market economics of the fossil fuel industry in the state. A royalty holiday here or there, or a fund to sue other states that want to close coal plants is not going to change the direction of the industry.
Wyoming will always be able to mine and sell some coal, for the forseeable . Just not 440 million tons in a year. The statehouse needs to recalibrate for < 100 million gross tons per annum. Carbon Capture is a fantasy. But will they have the courage to bring the oil and gas robber barons to bear ? I sincerely doubt it.
the big 3 in wyoming coal,trona, & water are resources that driving the economy in the state.
the legislatures job is to promote & enhance these industries.
anything less than their best efforts is a dereliction of duty.
Continuing to believe it’s the 1970’s and trying to pass laws that reflect a fantasy of the past is the dereliction of duty.
Promotion of coal is not in Wyomingites best interest. We are going to end up broke and isolated. You think inflation is bad now, just wait. Ignorance and denial are never going to change the reality of what needs to be done.