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Friday, October 11, 2019

Gov. Gordon and other Wyoming leaders must read, and heed, the writing on the state's energy wall

“This is the message that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is what these words mean: Mene means ‘numbered’ – God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.” – Daniel 5:25-26 (The Living Bible)

BY D. REED ECKHARDT

In the Old Testament, it took the Prophet Daniel to read the writing on the wall for the king of Babylon. 
But there is no need for a prophet to foretell the fate of Wyoming’s coal industry. All one has to do is ponder the meaning in the headlines. Consider just three from Wyoming newspapers in recent days:
“Wyoming utility leading drive to expand wind and solar” – Oct. 7 (https://cutt.ly/Ceol5oN)
“Cloud Peak’s unprecedented property write off.” – Oct. 7 (https://cutt.ly/Veol5MD)
“Coal plants to retire early” – Oct. 5 (https://cutt.ly/AeozqM9)
Apparently the only leaders in Wyoming who can see the future of the state’s carbon fuels industry are
Like a herd of buffaloes, Wyo. is headed over an energy cliff.
the energy companies themselves. While lawmakers, and the governor, and many business leaders, and a purposely misled citizenry scurry around trying to find something – anything – to lift the coal industry off of its deathbed, firms like PacificCorp are doing the math: There is no more money to made burning coal.
Why? Because the rest of the nation, heck, the rest of the world, is turning toward renewables like wind and solar. The climate change debate is settled, at least outside the walls of the State Capitol, where lawmakers chatter to one another about the “myth” of climate change and support each other’s ignorance, and in the Governor’s Office, where all eyes turn to Mexico as the next possible site from which to sell Wyoming coal overseas. Such is the desperation of these “kings” who cannot – or refuse to – read the writing on the wall.
The climate change tsunami is rolling over everything that Wyoming holds dear. It will drown the Legislature in budgetary red ink. And it will sentence the state’s untrained workforce to lives of suffering and unemployment. The bosses’ lies are coming home to roost: There will not always be jobs in the coal mines and at the smoke-belching utilities. And state leaders offer nothing to replace them except myths about “the future of coal.”
PacifiCorp’s recently released energy blueprint includes plans to close two-thirds of its Wyoming power plants by the end of this decade. Indeed, Jim Bridger No. 1 at Rock Springs will be mothballed in 2023. These closures will mean worlds of hurt in those communities with the power plants as well as those who produce the coal to feed them.
But to those with vision, PacifiCorp’s plans are not without promise. The company intends to pivot toward the future by riding a wave of renewables and the transmission lines that will better be able to move those electrons across the state and nation. 
In all, some 3,500 megawatts of fresh wind generation projects are planned – and most of those will be in Wyoming. Of that, 1,920 megawatts will go on line in just four years. And suddenly there is an awareness of the state’s solar potential. PacifiCorp plans to develop 1,920 megawatts of solar-generated energy with a launch planned for 2024. 
All of that means hundreds of “green” jobs for state workers with proper retraining.
Consider, too, that the value of Wyoming’s coal resources is plummeting. That is another telltale sign of this state’s carbon fate. If coal were considered part of the future, it would be sought after by investors. It’s not.
            The message is in the Cloud Peak headline above. That company declared bankruptcy earlier this year and closed three mines in northeastern Wyoming. Last August, it valued its holdings at $630 million. By September, that value had slipped to $67.6 million – a 90 percent decline. The message: Coal truly is dying a not-so-slow death, and there is not going to be a white hat to ride in to save it.
I have known Gov. Mark Gordon for a long time. We are not friends, merely acquaintances. I met him when he first ran for U.S. House against Cynthia Lummis in 2008. I believe he is a level-headed man who can see the truth. He has been affiliated with the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Earth. He surely has to know where all this change is headed, even if he can’t say so politically.
Yes, if Gordon were to stand up and speak the realities about climate change, and the future of Wyoming coal, and the need to embrace renewable energy as the key to this state’s future, he likely would be tossed out on his tail were he to run for re-election in 2022. But someone – someone– in authority and with an “R” behind his name has got to begin speaking truth to the people
The power plant near Rock Springs is set for closure.
of Wyoming. The utility companies are the fingers pointing to the writing on the wall, and Wyoming’s leaders need begin reading, and heeding, the message.
Is re-election, sitting in the governor’s chair, clinging to a title really more important than pointing Wyoming’s eyes toward the future? When did holding onto office become more important than creating a vision and then leading the state into a safe harbor rather than allowing it to rush over a cliff like a frightened buffalo herd?
PacificCorp and others are not going to turn around because lawmakers try to create laws to force them to keep their plants open. And taxing electric cars and home solar panels will be about as effective in stopping these realities as would standing in front of one of those monster pickups that overly dominate Cheyenne’s streets.
It is too ironic that the power companies are the ones pointing out the flaws in Wyoming’s carbon-based politics. Is there not one leader who will do the same?

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

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