The “Cowboy State” Is Now Riding Renewables

State Economy

The population of the Cowboy State, Wyoming is approximately 0.58 million people[1]. Wyoming is the least populated state in the United States.

In 2020, Wyoming’s economy was ranked 49th in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. The state’s economy is dependent on the mining, agriculture, oil, natural gas, and tourism industries[3].

Environment Policies

Wyoming is one of only 13 states that has neither a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) nor a renewable energy goal[4].

In April 2021, Wyoming utilities used coal (70.3%), renewable energy (24.4%), and natural gas (5.3%) to generate electricity[5]. Wind, hydropower, and solar are the primary sources of renewable energy in Wyoming.

In April 2021, the average cost of residential electricity in Wyoming was 11.11 ¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 13.76¢ per kWh.

Recent renewable energy developments in Wyoming include:

  • 3,000 MW Wind Project – Electric utility, Power Company of Wyoming is continuing work on the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which is located approximately 140 miles northwest of the state capital, Cheyenne. The entire project is forecast to be commissioned in 2026.
  • 250 MW Wind Project – In December 2020, American utility, PacifiCorp commissioned the Ekola Flats Wind Energy Project, which is located approximately 75 miles northwest of Cheyenne.
  • 250 MW Solar Project – Wyoming energy service company, Legend Services has announced plans to develop a utility scale solar project at a site approximately 250 miles northwest of Cheyenne. The project is forecast to be commissioned by 2024.
  • 225 MW Wind Project – In June 2020, NextEra Energy commissioned the Roundhouse Renewable Energy Project, which is located approximately 10 miles west of Cheyenne.

 Conclusions

Commercial coal mining began in Wyoming in 1867[6], prior to statehood. Coal was initially used to fuel steam engines to power locomotives and forges.

In 2019, Wyoming had 16 operating coal mines[7], which produced approximately 276.9 million short tons of primarily sub-bituminous coal. Wyoming has led the United States in coal production since 1986.

In 2010, Wyoming produced 442.5 million tons of coal. In 2019, Wyoming produced 276.9 million tons of coal due to the decline in global demand. Why is demand for coal declining?

  1. EconomicsThe cost to generate power from coal is more than double the cost to generate power from renewables, like wind.
  2. Pollution – Coal ash, the product of coal burned in a power plant contains arsenic, mercury, and lead; which are toxic. In 2019, coal ash was documented to have leaked into the ground water around 241 coal-fired plants in America[8].
  3. Climate Change Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas.

Escalating mining and transportation costs make the cost of electricity from coal significantly more expensive than renewable energy or even natural gas. Utilities in North America and Europe have been closing coal-fueled power plants due to compelling economic and environmental reasons.

Will America’s top coal producing states, Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Kentucky experience massive unemployment due to the move to renewable energy? The reality is move from coal-fueled power plants to power plants fueled by renewable energy, like wind and solar will result in massive job creation.

Employment in the coal industry in America has declined from over 862,536 jobs in 1920[9] to 53,714 people[10] in 2019, a 93.8 % decrease! Only 31,900 people actually worked in coal mines in 2019. Automation has been the driving force for the job losses in the coal industry.

In 2019, over 120,000 people were employed in the wind industry[11] and over 249,000 people were employed solar industry in America. Job growth in both the wind and solar industries are forecast to dramatically increase over the next ten years.

In 2019, America’s utilities[12] used wind and solar to generate 7.3% and 1.8% of the nation’s electricity, respectively. The U.S. Department of Energy now forecasts that by 2030 wind and solar will generate over 20% and over 17% of the nation’s electricity, respectively. Job gains from the wind and solar industries will more than offset job losses in the coal industry.

Wyoming has significant renewable energy resources, including wind, hydropower, and solar. Economics have caused utilities across the country to turn from coal to renewable energy. The “Cowboy State” is now riding renewables for new jobs and economic prosperity!

Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”

www.jackkerfoot.com

 

[1] Wyoming Population 2021, World Population Review

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis

[3] What Are The Major Industries In Wyoming? – World Atlas

[4] National Conference of State Legislators – State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, January 4, 2021

[5] U.S. Energy Information Agency – Wyoming State Profile and Energy Estimates

[6] Wyoming State Historical Society, The Coal Business in Wyoming by Chamois L. Andersen, November 8, 2014

[7] U.S. EIA – Wyoming State Profile and Energy Estimates, Energy Analysis – Coal, February 18, 2021

[8] Reuters, “Coal Ash Contaminates Groundwater Near Most U.S. Coal Plants: Study” by Valerie Volcovici, March 3, 2019

[9] http://gregor.us/policy/coal-jobs-and-the-power-of-a-false-premise/

[10] Statista – US Coal Mining Employment in 2019

[11] Wind Powers America Annual Report 2019

[12] U.S. Energy Information Agency

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