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Can Wyo learn from Canadian energy reservation?


 An energy development concept that seemed to fit Wyoming when first proposed 40 years ago has recently been back in the news.

This idea was to establish “energy reservations” in various isolated parts of the country. And no place in the USA has the vast amounts of energy that Wyoming has. And as the least populated state in the country, we must admit we have some isolated places, too.

As I recall, the concept involved grouping power plants, nuclear plants, refineries and other energy-generating sources in isolated locations that were close to energy sources but far from population centers.

Yep, that can describe Wyoming.

Of course back in the early 1970s, nuclear power was still growing and there were (and still are) huge deposits of uranium in Natrona, Converse and Fremont counties. This was before Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl, though, and most recently Fukashima. The thought was to build the power plants here and then transmit the energy over power lines.

Wyoming also has more than a 300-year supply of low sulphur coal, which would provide fuel for coal-fired power plants.

We are No.3 in the country in natural gas. We are the “windiest” place in the country, and I think even solar has a place at the energy table here.

There is a place in North America where this energy reservation concept seems to be working and some Wyoming politicians went there recently to get a first-hand look.

Alberta, Canada, has an area of of more than 200 square miles full of energy development of all kinds. The place employs 7,000 people with an average income of $150,000 per year.

Democrat Rep. John Freeman of Green River was quoted as saying: “Sometimes city and county governments can’t agree that the sky is blue. But 15 years ago, the folks in Alberta decided it was blue.” He said the Canadians turned their area into a gigantic energy hub and have been making history ever since. Freeman said the most interesting component of the complex to him was the emphasis on adding value to the raw commodities. “The big push was to add value to energy products.  They used byproducts to produce everything from plastics to fertilizer to asphalt shingles,” Freeman says.

“The local governments worked together to make sure there was infrastructure. Laws and regulations were crafted to ensure that it was a business-friendly environment,” he concluded.

Nine Wyoming legislators including Freeman flew to Canada on a state jet to view the area commonly called “heartland.” Sen. Ogden Driskill of Devils Tower was quoted as saying: “They are taking everything but the squeal out of the pig. All that’s left is just some brine water.”

Others making the trip included Representatives Kermit Brown, Michael Greer, Steve Harshman, David Miller, Bob Nicholas and Senators Larry Hicks and Jim Anderson.

There are many areas in Wyoming that might already qualify as energy reservations. The Gillette coal area, the Jonah Field area south of Pinedale, the area around Rock Springs, areas in Converse County and the area north of Casper all come to mind. Plus there are huge energy areas in Fremont, Carbon and Johnson counties that might qualify.

Wind is becoming a major player, especially when states like California demand that a percentage of all energy imported be from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Yet, wind, especially, can be fickle. By combining a huge wind complex like what is being proposed for Carbon County with some natural gas-fired power plants, the ability to send consistent power over power lines to California is much more viable.

Historically, it always seemed to make sense to me to group different types of energy producers together but when I would mention this to people in the know, they would roll their eyes. Birds of a feather flock together they would tell me, implying that a fossil fuel producer would just as soon not be in the same room as one of those windmill fellas.

Yet, you now see our biggest energy company Rocky Mountain Power, abandoning plans for coal plants in favor of windmill farms.

The people in charge are now viewing energy as the commodity that it really is. It is just electricity. It does not matter to them where it comes from as long as they can produce it reliably and in the most inexpensive (and safest) way possible.

The concept of an energy reservation is definitely on the table here in Wyoming. And it is about time.


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