The progressive energy policies passed in California will end up having a drastic influence on the future economy of Wyoming. With a renewable portfolio standard of 33%, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), and the Federal Green House Gas legislation (GHG) the west is looking at 116,000 GWh per year of renewable energy demand by 2020. Considering the relative costs and availability of renewable energy sources, wind will have to make up a hefty chunk of this 116,000 GWh. Right now the cost per mega watt of solar is around $200 compared to wind which is around $50.
So where is California going to get all this wind? Right now California has a wind potential of 6770 MW with nearly half of that already developed. That is peanuts when compared to Wyoming which has 85,000 MW of potential wind with less than 1,000 MW developed. Wyoming also has one of the highest concentrations of class 6 and 7 wind in the US (making it relatively efficient). This means that policies enacted in California will potentially transform the economy and industry in Wyoming.
Right now, a few projects have already begun to tap into this enormous wind potential. The Transwest Express LLC is already developing a 3,000 MW wind farm along with HDVC transmission lines that will run from Wyoming to southern Nevada where it plug into the Southern California grid. PacifiCorps Gateway South project has developed plans for multiple wind farms greater that 1,000 MW each.
In response to these rapid changes, Wyoming has enacted policies of its own that stand in stark contrast to those of California. While California proposes initiatives to exceed federal RPS with their WCI, Wyoming has let tax exemptions for wind farms to sunset. With concerns for land development, wildlife, and falling state revenues, the governor is still pushing to pass an excise tax on wind and suspend imminent domain for a year. The governor has also expressed views that the wind industry is only a fad whose development needs to be delayed until Wyoming understands exactly how to handle it.
Up until this point, Wyoming was relatively unconcerned with renewable energy and climate change. They do not currently hold themselves to any renewable portfolio standards. With their low population growth, their rural nature, and established coal mines they thought themselves out of the conversation. Now, will the policies enacted in California, Wyoming will have to quickly bring itself up to speed. If they can embrace the changing energy landscape, they have the chance to drastically improve the renewable energy mix throughout the west. If they go back to their conservative ways, their policies could prevent the evolution of the “smart grid” and stifle California’s aggressive climate change policies.