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Gordon: Wyoming Will Fight Feds To Save Energy Industry

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If Wyoming’s energy industry is going to go down, it’s not going down without a fight, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

In his “Address to the Legislature” on Tuesday, the Republican sounded concern over the future of Wyoming’s energy sector due to a seismic shift in national politics.

With the U.S. House, Senate, and executive branch all under Democratic control, those in the fossil fuel industry have been bracing for a hostile climate. But Gordon said the state will pursue every legal option to stand its ground and protect the industry to the best of its ability.

“There is good reason to be concerned that the actions of the next administration will further dampen the economic outlooks for energy and mining here in Wyoming,” Gordon said.

“The signals being sent during the transition period indicate that the substantial progress to reduce obstructionist, counter-productive regulation could be in peril,” he said.

Gordon said he hoped the incoming administration would value energy independence and realize that domestic production of energy is “central to our nation’s security.”

Although he praised the influence of Wyoming’s outsized delegation — leadership roles in both the House and the Senate — Gordon said he was ready for a fight to protect Wyoming’s interests.

“We will always defend our state and protect her interests through every legal, political, business, and technology option available to us,” he said.

It’s not a battle about a specific sector in the industry, he said. Instead,he described it as an issue of state’s rights, noting that Wyoming teamed up with Montana to sue the state of Washington for blocking Wyoming access to ports to export coal.

“We simply cannot have one state interfere with another’s access to markets by using the Clean Water Act as a weapon to pursue a misguided political agenda,” he said.

Gordon, a proponent of both fossil fuels and renewable energy, emphasized that both kinds of energy have a place in Wyoming’s future.

“Wyoming has responsibly led the way for a new energy horizon. One which values all sources of energy from nuclear, oil, gas, and coal to renewables like wind and solar,” he said.

In the end, however, Gordon said defending Wyoming’s energy interests are a top priority to protect the state’s future.

“We cannot and will not let the misguided actions of special interests and federal agencies rob our future,” he said.

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Wyoming Congressional Delegation Pleased With Soda Ash Royalty Reduction

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A reduction in soda ash royalties expected to save producers up to $5 million over the next 10 years is being praised by members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney welcomed the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision to reduce the royalties paid on soda ash production from 6% to 2% for the next decade, beginning Jan. 1.

“Today’s long-awaited action will give Wyoming soda ash producers the certainty we need to stay competitive in the global market,” Barrasso said. “For too long, American producers have had to battle unfair foreign trade practices of China and other countries. Lowering the royalty rate will level the playing field against China and preserve these high-paying jobs in Wyoming.”

Wyoming is the nation’s leading producer of soda ash, which is used in detergents, water softening and the manufacture of glass, soap and paper. The state also has the world’s largest deposits of trona, the raw material used to create soda ash.

The Department of Interior in August released its proposal to reduce the royalties paid on the production of minerals not related to energy. The reduction in royalties is expected to save the soda ash industry $5 million over the next decade.

Enzi, Barrasso and Cheney agreed the royalty reduction will help Wyoming soda ash remain competitive against foreign producers such as China.

“American producers have been struggling against unfair trade practices from other countries like China,” Enzi said in a news release from the three. “This decision to reduce the royalty rate will allow this critical Wyoming industry to remain competitive.

“This long-awaited royalty rate reduction will empower soda ash producers across our state to expand operations and create much-needed job opportunities and economic growth as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cheney said.

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Wind Turbine Company Investigating Turbine Fire

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There is still no word on what caused a wind turbine to catch fire over the weekend west of Cheyenne, but the wind farm’s management company said it is investigating.

“A wind turbine at the Roundhouse Wind Energy Center briefly caught fire on Saturday. The fire was out quickly, and no one was injured. Turbine fires are rare. We are currently investigating the cause of this incident,” NextEra Energy Resources, the company that manages the Roundhouse project, said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. 

As of Tuesday, there was still no explanation of what the repair or replacement process or timeline will look like.

“I am very concerned for my safety,” Sherry Birch, who lives near the wind farm, said in a press release over the weekend. “Had this been a drier time of the year, there is nothing that would have prevented this from starting a grass fire and threatening my home.”

According to fire suppression company Firetrace, wind turbines can catch fire because the components fail, which then generates heat or sparks and can ignite flammable materials.

Converter and capacitor cabinets catch on fire most frequently, but they can also start in the turbine’s transformer or in the emergency brake behind the gear box.

Laramie-area resident Paul Montoya, an active opponent of the wind farm, expressed concern earlier this year about the safety of some wind turbines, after blades from two separate turbines in Iowa broke off.

“Looking at the abnormally close distance of the turbines of the new Roundhouse turbine plant west of Cheyenne, I worry for our Wyoming residents said,” Montoya told Cowboy State Daily in reference to the Iowa blade problems.

Just two weeks ago, the company announced 200 new NextEra wind turbines have been installed and are fully operational in Converse County.

The Cedar Springs project employed about 400 workers during the project’s construction period and expect to now employ 20 permanent, full time wind technicians. 

“This is a $650 million investment in the county. It will generate $115 million in property taxes and $90 million in landowner payments during its life. Converse County and its people have been great to us. This has been a great place for business,” NextEra’s Project Manager Ryan Fitzpatrick said.

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Wyo State Senator Predicts Energy Industry Won’t Recover

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Wyoming State Sen. Dave Kinskey on Wednesday said Wyoming’s energy industry — always prone to boom and bust — may never ever see a boom again.

Appearing at a legislative forum earlier this week, Kinskey — who represents Sheridan and Johnson counties — said the domestic and international sentiment against fossil fuels — coupled with a Democratic president — will likely spell doom for Wyoming’s oil and gas industry.

“I mean the legislation worldwide and across the United States and now with a Biden Administration, the war on carbon is going to continue at an increased pace,” he said.

This means, he said, that Wyoming’s economy — with 60 percent of the state’s revenue coming from coal, oil, gas, and other extractive industries — is going to be hit hard.

“By the time you add in the additional effects of sales tax from those, it is dropping dramatically. Add to that the complications of COVID-19, and we’ll come out of that but we’re not going to come out any time soon from the tailspin on oil, gas, and coal,” he said.

Kinskey said the state’s revenues are projected to be down between 25% and 30% over the next four to six years.

He said the state is $200 million away from balancing the portion of the budget not related to education, but the deficit in the state’s budget for public schools continues to grow.

To that end, Kinskey has asked the state’s school districts to be willing to accept budget cuts and to find ways to take cuts in revenue without hurting education.

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Laramie Wind Project Protestors Concerned About Turbine Blades Breaking

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Critics of an Albany County wind farm are pointing to reports of wind turbine blade failures in Iowa as proof that additional state and local regulations on the turbines need to be considered.

In Iowa, two blades have broken off of turbines in the span of two months, something Paul and Lynn Montoya and Jennifer Kirchhoffer have taken notice of.

The Montoyas and Kirchhoffer are members of Albany County for Smart Energy Development, an organization looking to change Albany County’s current wind energy regulations.

The group feels existing rules do not adequately protect the area’s natural resources or ensure the health, safety and quality of life of residents, businesses and recreational users in proximity of energy facilities.

According to the Des Moines Register, MidAmerican Energy (which is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, billionaire Warren Buffet’s company) has said the blades broke somewhere along their length, not at the base.

However, the company has paused 46 wind turbines that have blades like the ones that have broken in the last two months.

“Looking at the abnormally close distance of the turbines of the new Roundhouse turbine plant west of Cheyenne, I worry for our Wyoming residents said,” Paul Montoya told Cowboy State Daily in referrence to the Iowa blade problems.

“This [story] only highlights the fact that setback distances in many counties in Wyoming are obsolete based on the new, much larger turbines being installed,” he said.

The broken blades in Iowa were more than 170 feet long and weighed around 18,000 pounds.

Last week, a technician found that a blade had fallen into a field in Greene County, Iowa. Another blade broke off a turbine and fell into a cornfield in Adair County, Iowa in September.

The company also had other problems with blades breaking, including one incident in April and another in October 2019, also in Adair County, but at a different MidAmerican wind farm than the incident in September.

A statement to the Des Moines Register this week assigned the blame for the failure to Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas, the largest wind turbine company in the world.

PacifiCorp, which is developing wind projects in various areas of Wyoming, including Carbon and Laramie counties, is using Vestas to manufacture the turbines for its wind farms.

In July, the ACSED delivered a petition to the Albany County board of commissioners in regards to the wind project being developed near Tie Siding.

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Barrasso: Fracking Is Number One Reason We Should Re-Elect Trump

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen John Barrasso has been relatively quiet this week, but came back in full force Friday to talk about Joe Biden’s fracking strategy on Fox Business.

Barrasso told host Maria Baritromo that Biden’s fracking policy, or lack thereof, is the top reason President Donald Trump should be re-elected.

“I don’t even know if [Biden] remembers what his policy is, but let’s be very clear: during the debates through the Democratic primaries, he was going to ban fracking and said it repeatedly,” Barrasso said.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is the process of injecting liquid into the earth to help extract oil or gas.

The senator added that Biden even claimed he was going to ban all carbon-based fuels, which Barrasso believed would be something Biden’s “Green New Deal members” in the Senate and House of Representatives would hold him to.

“For America, that means the loss of over a million jobs, good-paying jobs,” the senator said. “It means people will pay double when they go to fill up their car with gas. It means electricity bills will likely triple.”

He added that Trump had managed to “unleash American energy” and eliminate America’s dependence on foreign countries, such as those in the Middle East, for its fuels.

Barrasso criticized Biden’s vice presidential pick, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, for her opposition to fracking, adding that she was also a Green New Deal member.

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1,200+ Signatures Gathered In Laramie Wind Energy Protest

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An ongoing protest against Albany County wind energy rules continued on Monday when a petition critical of current rules and carrying more than 1,200 signatures was delivered to the county’s board of commissioners.

Paul Montoya and other members of the group Albany County for Smart Energy Development delivered their petition Monday morning to the Albany County Commissioners.

The petition charged that the county’s current wind energy regulations don’t adequately protect the area’s natural resources or ensure the health, safety and quality of life of Albany County residents, businesses and recreational users in proximity of energy facilities.

Many of the group’s concerns stem from outdated regulations that were put in place before taller and more powerful wind turbines were designed and put into use.

The group has been particularly critical of a wind project near Tie Siding.

Montoya and two other members held a livestreamed news conference on Facebook following the delivery of the petition to explain what the petition was about and their intent for bringing it to the commissioners.

He explained that a few weeks ago, the county commissioners began discussing potential changes to wind energy regulations and asked for public comment.

This was a perfect time for the ACSED to gather a petition and show the commissioners that residents strongly believe the regulations should be changed, Montoya said.

“This petition is not a referendum,” Montoya said. “We only use it to demonstrate to the county the desire of its residents, to add protection for its residents and natural resources for this and future generations through properly locating industrial wind turbines in this county.”

Montoya and others are opposing the proposed Rail Tie Wind Project, which is to be built around Highway 287 near Tie Siding.

In July, Montoya told Cowboy State Daily that certain wind projects have “engulfed neighboring counties such as Laramie County and Carbon County.”

The group held a peaceful protest regarding the regulations back in July. Montoya said the Roundhouse project outside of Cheyenne was a major factor behind the rally, noting that it’s an eyesore that can be seen from as far away as Albany County.

Construction on the Roundhouse project, which will consist of up to 120 turbines, began in 2019 and is expected to be completed at the end of this year.

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Oil Groups: Biden’s Drilling Proposal Would Hurt Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A proposal by presidential candidate Joe Biden to block oil and gas drilling on federal lands would have a significant impact on the economies of Wyoming and other oil-producing states, according to a study prepared by oil industry organizations.

The analysis released by the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and American Petroleum Institute said such a ban would reduce Wyoming’s oil and natural gas production by more than 30%, costing the state more than 33,000 jobs and $641 million in state revenue.

“Given that nearly 50% of all lands in Wyoming are owned by the federal government, a ban on federal leasing and development would decimate the natural gas and oil industry and Wyoming’s economy along with it,” said Pete Obermeuller, president of the PAW. “This policy would damage both national security and environmental stewardship while devastating Wyoming’s middle class, local communities and public school system.”

Biden’s proposal to end climate change calls for a ban on new oil and gas drilling permits on public lands and waters.

Nationally, the API said such a move would result in a $700 billion decline in the country’s gross domestic product, the loss of 1 million jobs and a threat to more than $9 billion in government income through taxation and fees.

Wyoming would be among the hardest-hit states, coming in fourth behind New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana for job losses and second behind New Mexico for state revenue losses.

The API also concluded a national ban on drilling on federal lands would increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil while cutting the nation’s exports of natural gas.

The move would also slow the switch from coal-fired power generating plants to natural gas plants, the analysis said, thus failing to reduce emissions as hoped.

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Gordon Releases Study Showing Benefits Of Coal Plant Retrofit

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gordon Releases Study Showing Benefits Of Coal Plant Retrofit

Equipping some Rocky Mountain Power coal-fired generating plants with carbon capture technology would provide greater benefits than simply retiring the plants as the company plans, according to a study released Thursday.

However, the power company questioned the conclusion reached by Leonardo Technologies in its study unveiled by Gov. Mark Gordon and officials from the U.S. Department of Energy during a news conference Thursday.

During the news conference, Gordon and the others said the study showed how Wyoming can take the lead in carbon capture technology.

“Aggressive (carbon capture, utilization and storage) initiatives could establish Wyoming as a world leader in that technology,” said Steve Winberg, assistant secretary of Fossil Energy for the DOE. “That effort would pay large and increasing dividends to the state as (carbon capture, utilization and storage) becomes one of the dominant economic and energy technologies of the 21st century.”

Rocky Mountain Power, in its 2019 integrated resource plan, announced that it would retire nine power units at its coal-fired plants in Wyoming by 2028. One unit, at the Naughton plant in Kemmerer, was retired in 2019.

The company said by moving toward natural gas and renewable energy, it would be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and power costs for its customers.

In response, Gordon asked the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct a study to determine whether putting carbon capture, utilization and storage technology the plants would reduce carbon emissions while allowing for the continued use of Wyoming coal and the related employment.

In addition, Wyoming’s Legislature adopted a bill in 2020 prohibiting utilities such as Rocky Mountain Power from recovering the costs of retiring plants through rate increases and allowing the utilities to collect a surcharge from customers to pay for the retrofitting of plants with carbon capture technology.

Leonardo Technologies, in its study of power units at the the Jim Bridger plant in Rock Springs, Naughton plant in Kemmerer and Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock, said the retrofitting of the plants would result in lower carbon emissions, lower power costs and a lower loss of jobs than if Rocky Mountain Power followed through with its plans to retire the plants. The study also concluded that local and state revenue from coal taxes and royalties would be higher if the plants were equipped with carbon capture technology.

But Rocky Mountain Power, in a reaction to the study’s release, said the study failed to take several factors into account, such as the cost of extending the lives of the power plants long enough to make the investment in carbon capture technology worthwhile.

“PacifiCorp (Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company) continues to examine the study’s assumptions and calculations to properly evaluate its conclusions, but the list of items missed by the study’s analysis is very long,” the company said. “This type of calculation ignores so many elements (all but capital), and should not be relied upon for making the kinds of decisions required of a regulated utility.”

Among the missed costs, according to the statement, were “everything associated with how a utility’s costs flows into rates,” including fuel costs, costs from market purchases, property taxes and net power costs.

The statement said Rocky Mountain Power considered retrofitting the plants before making the decision to retire them.

“Given the current high capital costs of implementing carbon capture on coal-fired generations, as well as other barriers, carbon capture has not been considered a viable option to date, which is why it has only been installed at a single facility nationwide,” it said.

That one facility was mothballed earlier this year because of economic concerns, the company said.

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Cheney Pleased With Interior Decision to Open Arctic To Oil & Gas Development

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U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney welcomed Monday’s news that energy development would be allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Department of Interior announced on Monday its intention to allow oil and gas development in roughly 10% of the area.

Predictably, the announcement caused a schism between both parties with Cheney signaling her support by tweeting the Wall Street Journal article which had the story first.

“Today’s announcement by Secretary Bernhardt approving drilling in ANWR is another promise kept by President Trump that will boost our country’s domestic energy production while also returning power to state and local officials where it belongs,” Cheney said on Twitter.

Although Democrats predicted environmental doom if the area was developed, the handwringing may be premature.  

The issue has been a political football for more than 30 years, and as the New York Times reported on Monday “any oil production within the refuge would still be at least a decade in the future” if it ever happens.

Already one group is ready to sue the administration over it.

“The Trump administration’s so-called review process for their shameless sell-off of the Arctic Refuge has been a sham from the start. We’ll see them in court,” said a statement from Lena Moffitt, the Sierra Club’s senior director of its Our Wild America campaign. 

Plus, with energy prices so low, the business climate for development could be an obstacle.

“Current market forces weigh against the industry trying to sink new wells in such an expensive and inhospitable place, and that consumer pressure against such moves will be considerable,” wrote Scott Martelle of the Los Angeles Times.

Oddly, President Trump didn’t tweet anything about the news on Monday but told FOX News that he would “take a look” at the Dept of Interior’s decision.

“ANWR is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get done and nobody could get done,” Trump said.

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