Wyoming Energy Authority taking shape

By Greg Johnson

Gillette News Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — The state is moving to merge the Wyoming Infrastructure and Pipeline authorities into a single Wyoming Energy Authority, and lawmakers want to make sure doing so won’t lose any of the expertise held by the former organizations.

Combining the groups into a more encompassing agency that puts a larger umbrella over implementing Wyoming’s vision for energy production and research isn’t anything new in state government. But it’s especially important that the Cowboy State get it right, said Jason Begger, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. It’s Begger’s task to lead the planning efforts to create the new authority.

“This isn’t a new thing we’re trying to pull together,” he said at Thursday’s meeting of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee meeting at the Pronghorn Center in Gillette. “These types of things happen over time (in government).”

Creating the energy authority will mean the governor-appointed boards of its parent entities will be disbanded and a new board will be appointed, which will likely be put to the state Senate for approval in the next legislative session.

When that new board is created, committee co-chairman Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, wants to make sure its members retain the expertise that made them effective in their former groups.

Both the infrastructure and pipeline authorities require specific industry experience and expertise to serve. Greear suggested requiring two members of the new board each be required to have the same qualifications of the previous authorities.

“It’s really important to preserve that moving forward,” he said, adding that the merger isn’t going to be simple. “There are going to be a lot of different opinions on what this should look like.”

While that may be true, it’s apparent that the energy landscape of Wyoming has evolved and needs a better way to manage and move initiatives forward, Begger said. For example, the state’s energy program that falls under the umbrella of the governor’s office has previously been managed by other departments that have focuses well outside of energy.

Along with moving those, the new Wyoming Energy Authority has the potential to also be more cost effective by eliminating redundancies and streamlining contracted services, Begger said.

“We can make sure there’s no overlap or stepping on people’s toes,” he said.

Learning as we go

Begger also updated the committee on the state’s efforts to progress carbon capture and reuse research, particularly at the Dry Fork Station power plant north of Gillette.

The plant is home to the Integrated Test Center, a world-class facility that gives researchers access to large amounts of flue gas from a coal-fired power plant for commercial-level, high-volume testing. While building the ITC has been completed, and at 18% under budget, officials have learned there are many more amenities that can be built there to attract the best research prospects, Begger said.

Those include installing emissions monitoring equipment, central control rooms, running a natural gas line to the facility and adding a large steam boiler.

The ITC already “is being recognized as a really unique asset, not only locally, but internationally,” he said, adding that marketing it is still an important task the state can’t ignore.

He also discussed the importance of the state to set aside or commit some money to seed carbon research and the development of carbon-related industries in Wyoming. It’s important for the state to have some buy-in because, while there’s a lot of money for research available from the federal Department of Energy, most of those grant awards require a 20% outside match.

For example, the CarbonSAFE project that just finished drilling a 10,000-foot-deep test well just south of Dry Fork Station is phase two of a four-phase DOE project to find commercial-scale carbon dioxide sequestration.

Overseen by the University of Wyoming, it’s a $9.7 million project that expects to show there’s potential for CO2 sequestration under the Powder River Basin, said Scott Quillinan, director of energy research for the UW School of Energy Resources. If Wyoming is chosen to move on to phases three and four, it could require a match for a DOE project that could cost up to $50 million.

Wyoming already has a strong case to move on, but having that match money available would be a bonus in playing out the research, Quillinan said.

And it’s especially important the Dry Fork well site be developed, he said. That’s because Wyoming, and Campbell County specifically, is uniquely positioned to take advantage of commercial-scale CO2 storage.

The power plant could capture and store its CO2, but that carbon dioxide also can be used for oil recovery as there are dozens of potential well sites nearby. It’s also close to Denbury Resources’ CO2 pipeline that crosses Wyoming.

Rep. Don Burkart, R-Rawlins wanted to know that, instead of waiting on the DOE to act and approve grants or next phases of research for carbon projects, could Wyoming just cut through all that and do it itself.

“I think if we wait on the feds, we’ll wait forever,” he said. “What do you need from us?”

The best thing lawmakers can do is to keep “letting everybody know Wyoming is all-in,” Quillinan said.

While there are numerous projects around the country to capture and store CO2, the Campbell County site is in the best position to do something with it, Quillinan said.

“To be quite frank, there isn’t a community that’s more invested in coal than right here,” he said. “And there isn’t a state as invested in coal as Wyoming.”

The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee wrapped up its two-day Gillette meeting Friday, mostly with discussions on various oil and gas law issues.