Climate action on the federal level is unlikely for the next four years, but states can do a lot on their own to reduce emissions and grow clean energy. Recent bipartisan compromises to advance clean energy in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan show that state leaders see the writing on the wall: renewables are becoming cheaper by the day and present tremendous opportunities for economic development.
Wyoming is another case altogether, though. For starters, the coal-heavy state does not have a renewable energy standard that mandates utilities purchase a certain amount of renewable energy. In fact, the state seems to be going in the opposite direction. A bill filed last Tuesday by a group of Republican state legislators would prohibit utilities from purchasing electricity from large-scale solar or wind installations. It would fine utilities that do not procure energy from an approved list of sources: coal, natural gas, hydroelectric power, rooftop solar, nuclear or oil.
Wyoming depends on fossil fuels for everything from income to energy to tax revenue. In 2015, the state produced 42 percent of all coal mined in the country. That same year, almost 90 percent of electricity in the state came from coal. Taxes on oil, gas and coal production are the state’s primary source of revenue.
But coal isn’t everything. Wyoming is one of those rare states that could churn out both huge sums of fossil fuels and renewable energy — specifically wind. What electricity Wyoming doesn’t produce from coal comes from wind. Developers want to build large-scale wind farms and sell the electricity they generate across state lines. By 2030, Wyoming could produce enough wind energy to power 3.4 million American homes. And yet, state legislators are trying to halt the growth of wind power.
As the energy transition marches on, policymakers in fossil fuel-heavy states have to contend with difficult questions. Do they continue with business as usual, or do they take advantage of new opportunities for job creation in their states? Wyoming employs nearly 8,000 people in clean energy and energy efficiency. There’s no doubt these industries can drive economic growth.
Steve Hargreaves and Courtney St. John write for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow them at @shargrea and @CourtSaintJohn.