Wyoming’s renewable future could be bumpy
The future of energy in our region and beyond was a focus on the final day of the Mountain West Innovation Summit held in Laramie.
Former Governor of Wyoming Dave Freudenthal and PacifiCorp’s Wyoming Vice President Sharon Fain were keynote speakers.
Freudenthal spoke about the challenges of shifting toward renewable energy. He said energy policy is volatile because of politics, as every election cycle disrupts the past administration’s plans.
“What worries me is that if we don't figure out a way to have a sustained policy that lasts more than either the next congressional election or the next presidential election, this thing is, is going to be fits and starts,” Freudenthal said.
He added that Americans have come to expect very cheap energy prices and would be “astonished if they went to Europe” and saw what folks pay for energy. Freudenthal said shifting toward renewable energy is necessary and inevitable, but it will not be cheap.
“Somehow, we have to begin to understand that the cost of energy is higher than we've been paying, and I don't know whether we can get the public there,” he said. “Because only if that happens will you be in a position where politicians can't use the price of the pump as a sword against whoever's in office.”
Freudenthal said a sustainable government fund for energy would help, but also being realistic about renewable energy projects – understanding that not all will be a total success. But he added that people have to keep innovating and trying.
Fain spoke about supporting communities during energy transition. The company has plans to turn several coal plants into natural gas units and also shut down some of the current plants.
“We're reimbursing our employees if they choose to get a college degree or a new certification – we'll reimburse them for that cost,” Fain said. “We're also working with communities to secure economic development administration matching funds, to undergo some economic diversification studies, and then execute those programs.”
PaciCorp also has plans to purchase the TerraPower nuclear plant in Kemmerer once it becomes commercially viable.
Freudenthal echoed that being realistic about such projects is key.
“Let's say this reactor project in southwest Wyoming doesn't meet the hype and the expectations,” he said. “Let's say that it's only 75 percent (of expectations), then somebody is going to come along and say, “Well, it failed.” It didn't fail.”
He said the government is expected to get things right 100 percent of the time, but in the private sector people are afforded more room for mistakes, he added that that is simply not realistic.