Recap: Energy Summit 2019

This is the first installment in a recap of the Energy Summit May 7-8 in Gillette that highlights the changing face of the energy market and some of the issues and ideas raised from the panel discussions and speakers.

 

The taste for fossil fuels is on the decline, and if Wyoming intends to remain competitive in the energy market, it needs to evolve to meet the changing customer’s demand for clean energy.

This was the predominant message from many of the speakers and panelists at the sixth annual Energy Summit in Gillette last week, sponsored by Wyoming Business Report.

“The markets have spoken,” County Commissioner Mark Christensen said in his opening comments. “Regardless of what you might think about climate change, the markets think it’s an issue.”

Given that 40 percent of the energy produced in Wyoming goes to fuel other states, their policies toward climate change are very much driving the market, he noted.

“Investing in research will provide new opportunities for Campbell County,” he said. “Research drives business, and we need to find new opportunities for Wyoming products that make good economic sense.”

We can’t rely on oil and gas tax dollars, he added.

In 2018, 58 percent of Campbell County’s taxes came from coal, he noted in his presentation, while 17 percent were from oil.

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Currently, the county is focusing on ways to incentivize research opportunities by partnering with the University of Wyoming and other entities to form relationships and maximize funding opportunities by matching the Department of Energy’s investment in energy research.

“Wyoming is about 10 years too late,” State Representative Michael Von Flatern, R – Campbell, said pragmatically during the policy roundtable discussion with fellow legislators Rep. Mike Greear, R – Big Horn, Washakie, and freshmen Reps.  Shelly Duncan, R – Goshen, and Rep. Sara Burlingame, D – Laramie.

Greear reiterated sentiments from both Christiansen and Von Flatern, noting that the demand for clean energy is being driven outside of state lines, which will have an impact on tax dollars if the state doesn’t act quickly to mitigate the loss.

“The decline will continue,” he said, “and will have a huge impact in three years and we have to deal with it.”

Others on the panel agreed, including Burlingame, who suggested the state revise its stance on coal.

“The market has said clearly that attempts to market coal as clean coal hasn’t been successful,” she said. “We need to take a deficit and turn it into a positive.”

Yes, she agreed with Von Flatern that the state is woefully behind when it comes to producing clean carbon on an industrial scale, but now is the time to be inventive and find new opportunities for producing clean energy.

“We need to be innovative,” she said. “We can be the state who is doing it right.”

Duncan echoed these sentiments for “telling our own story” and “rebranding ourselves as innovators.”

Von Flatern returned to the discussion of taxes, noting that the state has already cut its budget dramatically when it comes to recouping lost revenue.

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“We’ve cut our budget by 10 years,” he said. “We are back to a 2008 budget and it’s hard to cut more jobs and we need to come up with some revenue.”

Regulatory uncertainty was also a point of discussion, particularly when it comes to the oil and gas industry. The permitting process is flawed, Greear said, which is something he would like the Legislature to tackle next session.

“Legislature has a big role in setting rules,” he said with regard to oil drilling and production. “Our rules are designed for a vertical world, but we are now living in a horizontal world.”

Because the state lacks an energy department, he noted, streamlining oversight into one authoritative body to oversee and permitting and regulatory process would speed up gas and oil production, which would be a boon to the state.

It was a central point of agreement among the legislators as they mulled ways to mitigate the predicted lack of a tax windfall. The discussion came back around to a changing energy market, in which the state must adopt changes to remain competitive in the market.

 

 

Jennifer is a Wyoming transplant who can’t imagine living anywhere else. She comes to Outliers with more than a decade of community reporting experience from publications around the state. For story ideas and tips, contact Jen at jckocher@mcllc.net.