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Will Wyoming's New Energy Authority Change its Dismal Energy Efficiency Ratings?

image credit: Illustration 81467933 © Evgenyi Gromov - Dreamstime.com

For several years, Wyoming has ranked near bottom in energy efficiency listings. The Cowboy State has made minimal to no effort to set up standards for efficiency or inculcate power-saving habits in its residents. Recently, however, it reconfigured its approach to power production and distribution by creating a new energy authority. Does this development bode well for energy efficiency’s future in Wyoming? 

The Energy Efficiency Problem in Wyoming

Over the years, Wyoming has garnered abysmal scores for its lackluster approach to energy efficiency. For example, it was awarded a paltry 5.5 points, out of a possible 50, in ACEEE’s efficiency scorecard for 2018. The year prior, it scored 4.5. In both years it had the dubious honor of being ranked last in the scorecard listings.

That energy efficiency should not be a priority for Wyoming is not surprising. The goal for energy efficiency initiatives and establishment of resource standards is to decrease electricity and fossil fuel production and consumption. But Wyoming’s economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuel and electricity production. The state is the largest producer of coal and ranks among the top ten for natural gas production. Wyoming also produces surplus electricity and exports power to neighboring states even as its residents enjoy a residential electricity rate that is below the national average price. Not surprisingly,it ranks first in carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hours. 

Wyoming also lags the rest of the country on other important energy efficiency indicators, such as adoption of electric vehicles and construction of charging stations, compliance enforcement for energy efficiency projects, and energy ratings. There are no state-mandated energy efficiency codes for new and existing construction. Instead, buildings follow a patchwork of International Energy Conservation Codes (IECC) based on jurisdiction. The situation is made worse by a lack of benchmarking and transparency. 

For the most part, the state runs federally-subsidized energy efficiency programs. There are a few utility-run programs as well. Rocky Mountain Power, the state’s biggest utility, introduced demand-side management programs in 2009 after approval from the Wyoming Public Service Commission. It spent $9 million or about 1.3% of its revenues on energy efficiency projects in 2017. The next year, utilities in Wyoming spent a total of $10 million on energy efficiency projects. That spending figure is among the lowest such number in the country.   

Interestingly, energy efficiency is among the top employers in the energy industry in Wyoming. According to a 2019 employment report, the sector accounted for the third-largest workforce in the state's energy industry.  

Will the Wyoming Energy Authority Spur Energy Efficiency? 

In its earlier avatar, the State Energy Office, which is responsible for making energy efficiency grants, was housed within the Wyoming Business Council, a testimony to the energy industry’s place within the state economy. Based on a reading of the bill announcing creation of the new energy authority, it seems to be planning an energy approach that is independent of business. 

The Wyoming Energy Authority, which came into being on July 1, is primarily a combination of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority and the Wyoming Pipeline Authority and is envisaged as a “one-stop shop” for energy in Wyoming. The State Energy Office has also been folded into the initiative. Its purpose is to diversify and expand the state’s economy “through improvement in the state’s electric and energy infrastructure.”   

Don’t expect miracles, though. Oil and natural gas interests are well-represented in the new agency’s board: two members are from the Wyoming enhanced oil recovery commission and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission respectively. While the bill outlines the scope of power and duties for the Wyoming Energy Authority, it makes no mention of energy efficiency programs within the state.  Based on reports, however, it is also expected to function with a budget that might not leave it with much to spend on EE programs. 

About the only silver lining to this dismal state of affairs is the new agency's mandate to seek federal grants and loans and administer federally-funded state energy programs. To that extent, it is possible that the energy efficiency frontier in Wyoming might be conquered with federal mandates instead of state-approved ones.

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