A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Energy plus

Jun 14, 2017 - By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Our industry is smaller, but Wyoming can thrive on it, plus diversification

Wyoming's energy industry is the smallest it's been in years. So is the Ranger's Mining and Energy Edition.

We are publishing 52 pages today. That's still a big newspaper by our standards, but this year's edition, the 62nd, is the smallest since 1960.

As usually is the case, the mining edition goes as the industry goes. Inside today's pages, readers will find stories of struggle across most of the energy and minerals industry. That industry has been so good to Wyoming, but in its time of trouble has left our state a hard place.

Once upon a time we had a big printing client that threw us a lot of business. The account was so lucrative that we decided to buy a specialized printing press just to accommodate the requirements of the big customer.

We used it twice before the cutstomer sold out to a competitor and left the business -- and us along with it. We stil have that fancy press, but it has hardly been touched in 15 years. It was the obvious thing to do at the time, but times changed.

Examiners of Wyoming's economy say the state has done something of the same thing, putting too many of its fiscal eggs in one basket -- energy -- and then suffering since the industry has gone into a deep recession.

It could be worse than that. No less a supporter of Wyoming minerals than Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout said at a legisloative committee hearing this week that he doubts the fantastically lucrative energy industry in Wyoming can ever regain its former footing.

He's an expert, and he may well be right. Coal is still big, but it has shrunk and faces huge hurdles to new growth. Finding a solution to the carbon emissions problem is coal's make-or-break issue.

Natural gas will revive, most likely, but fracking and pipeline building in other parts of the country might not permit Wyoming to profit so greatly. Uranium? It built much of the modern Fremont County economy, but these days it's going practically nowhere. Oil? The days of $100 per barrel recede farther into the past each day, and the path back to them will be long, and not necessarily all that desriable in other ways.

Why did we devote significant space in this year's energy edition to wind power?Because it's the most exiciting and promising new segment of Wyoming energy. After years of planning, permitting anxiety, taxation questions and environemtnal concerns (yes, giant wind turbines are impactful ont he environment), the immense Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind project in south-central Wyoming appears headed to construction.

No, it's not the Powder RIver Basin or the Gas Hills, two near-mythical minerals jackpots in Wyoming's history (one for coal, the other uranium), but never say there's not money in renewables.

The sales tax revenue alone from the buying the towering windmills is $250 million, before one watt of electricity is generated. Carbon County's tax base will swell as the Chockcherry wind farm starts producing. There will be jobs, too -- nothing like the big uranium and coal mines had at their peaks, but jobs all the same. The smart communities diversified lcoal economies when coal and uranium boomed. If the same can happenmint he wind coutnies as well, wind powier can start to prove its worth on the ground as well as the atmosphere.

Talk of diversification away from energy has been around Wyoming for decades. The energy and minerals industry itself is diversified in the state. Coal isn't the same as soda ash. Bentonite and uranium both come from the ground, but the industry similarities send there. Wind power adds another dimension, uniquely.

Wyoming says it will embark on a 20-year project to bring new but different economic development to the state. It's a fine idea with an ambitious beginning. Whether the governors, legislators, regulators and voters of the future will follow through to the 2030s is one of Wyoming's important, looming tests.

Let no one ever blame Wyoming for developing and capitalizing on its energy and minerals riches. For many, many years practically every state in America gladly would have traded its financial statements for ours. Energy has been a huge, swift horse for Wyoming, and we would have been foolish not to ride it.

Any diversification effort must recognize and embrace the ongoing benefit of energy and minerals development in Wyoming. If we could restore and maintain and energy and minerals industry at even three-quarters of its former glory, in addition to realizing the oft-stated unachieved goal of a more diverse Wyoming economy, then we'd really have something.

Today, on the occasion of our 62nd annual Mining and Eneregy Editon, we say Wyoming is the state than can do it.

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