solar

Bureau of Land Management

Driving west across Wyoming, there are windmills lined up across bluffs in the distance. Oil and gas rigs dot both sides of the highway. Open-pit coal mines too. What you won’t see on a cross-state trip are any fields of solar panels. In Sweetwater County, that could soon change.

Panel at the "Future of Solar" event with Cheyenne Representative Dan Zwonitzer on the left
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

Legislators, businesspeople, and residents came together in Laramie Wednesday to discuss the future of solar energy in Wyoming. The event was organized by the Powder River Basin Resource Council and the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Annual Solar and Biomass Electricity Capacity (2014-2017)
Electric Power Monthly / U.S. Energy Information Administration

Solar generation surpassed biomass in 2017 to become the third most generated renewable resource in the U.S., according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It still lags behind wind and hydropower.

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Jackson's town council made way for more solar investment last week, allowing customers to buy into the soon-to-built solar farm. 

The shared solar system would be based out of a farm at Jackson’s wastewater treatment plant. The solar farm, itself, was approved by the town council this past August. The idea is for new customers to buy solar power from a farm, rather than buying panels themselves. 

Johnny Ziem, Jackson’s wastewater plant superintendent, co-developed the idea for a shared solar farm. He said the next step is to solidify new customers.

Wyoming’s first utility-scale solar farm is being proposed in Sweetwater County. 

Wyoming currently has less than 2 megawatts of installed solar in the entire state. If built, the Sweetwater project would be 80 megawatts—enough to power roughly 24,000 homes.

Dan Boyce/Inside Energy

With help from a supercomputer in Cheyenne, researchers have developed a new solar energy forecasting system that could help utilities integrate more renewables and save money.

KQED

Concerns about who would be in charge of an integrated Western grid are delaying a decision on the issue, even though it is expected to increase the use of renewables across the West and save consumers millions of dollars. 

Stephanie Joyce

Earlier this year, on a conference call with investors, the head of one of the nation's largest coal companies shocked those tuned in with a frank admission.  Colin Marshall is CEO of Cloud Peak Energy:

"As we look forward, it is clear that the dynamics of the coal industry have permanently changed," he said. “Where coal used to provide baseload generation, it is now much more variable depending on power demand, renewable output, and the price of natural gas."

The largest consumer of Wyoming coal is projecting a shift to solar in the next 15 years.

Texas consumed 58 million tons of Wyoming coal in 2014, more than any other state, but many of that state’s coal fired power plants are headed for retirement, and Texas’ grid operator anticipates those will be replaced with solar power.

philipwarburg.com

  

In recent years, solar energy has gone from the fringe to mainstream. Solar costs have dropped dramatically while solar installations have similarly increased. Solar still provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s power, and in states like Wyoming, it’s virtually nonexistent. But many predict solar power will play a much larger role in the future.

The aging United States electricity grid is facing an increasing number of threats, ranging from severe weather events, to solar flares, to cyber terrorism.

Inside Energy research found that major power outages have doubled every five years since 2000. It’s something the U.S. military is taking seriously. They're helping to lead the way in the development of smaller and more secure grids – known as microgrids.

In April, for the first time ever, the US got more of its electricity from natural gas than coal, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration. The numbers show 32 percent of electricity generated that month came from natural gas, while just 30 percent came from coal.

Solar Impulse / Rezo.ch

A small, lightweight aircraft landed in Hawaii today, setting a new record for the world’s longest solo flight in a solar-powered plane. 

After spending 118 hours in the air, Swiss Pilot Andre Borschberg landed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, ending the longest leg of a planned trip around the world. The Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi in March but was delayed in China and then Japan due to bad weather. At the end of June, Borschberg finally got the green light. He took off from Japan and landed in Hawaii five days later.   

Dan Boyce/Inside Energy

Following backlash from customers, South Dakota-based Black Hills Power has dropped a proposed rate increase for solar users. 

The surcharge would have applied to customers in South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Although the company has withdrawn the proposal for now, it hasn't ruled out bringing it back in the future. Deb Theriault of Casper-based Range Solar & Wind said even a surcharge of $5 to $20 could be a real disincentive.

According to a new report, Wyoming voters are more likely to vote for candidates who support using public lands for more than just oil and gas development.

Julianne Couch is the author of Traveling the Power Line, a book about the many energy sources we tap into for our power needs – from oil and gas, to wind, to solar and uranium.

Couch teaches at the University of Wyoming and has also written Jukeboxes and Jackalopes: A Wyoming Bar Journey and Waking Up Western: Collected Essays. She now lives in Iowa but stopped by the studio to talk to Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov about her book.