State looks for sites for energy park

State looks for sites for energy park

By on Jun 15, 2015 in In the News |

CHEYENNE – A proposal to build a massive energy park somewhere in Wyoming is slowly moving closer to becoming a reality.

For the past two years, Gov. Matt Mead and other state leaders have discussed a lofty goal to create what some have described as an “energy mega campus” in the state.

The idea behind the plan is to attract several commercial-scale industries that use the same raw materials or equipment to set up shop around a single location.

Jerimiah Rieman, the governor’s natural resource policy director, said during last week’s Wyoming Infrastructure Authority meeting that this has the potential to transform the state’s energy sector by adding value to the state’s extracted minerals.

Wyoming is still a long way from actually breaking ground on the project.

But Rieman said the state is well into its “investigation-gathering phase” as officials look at the feasibility of the project, what companies would be a good fit and, perhaps most critically, where the park will go.

Rieman said state officials haven’t decided what county or even what region of the state they are targeting.

But he said the state is hoping to narrow down the potential locations to a few sites in the coming months.

This will be done by working with the Wyoming Business Council, local economic development groups and individual localities. Rieman said the state is also taking into account where the natural resources are that would be supplied to the industries in the energy park.

“So perhaps if we are thinking about trona, we are going to have to go look at the southwest part of the state,” he said. “We are not just going to pick up those trona mines and move to the northeast part of the state.”

Rieman added that the state is also looking at the available infrastructure and workforce that would be needed for the park.

“We are asking the local governments to go out and look at their assets today,” he said. “It’s not only going to help them for this, but it will also help them in their day-to-day work if they understand what their transportation systems look like, what water they have, what are their utilities, what is their tax structure and what educational or housing issues do they face.”

The planned energy park would follow the model of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Complex.

That Canadian industry and business park houses more than 40 chemical, petrochemical, oil and gas companies on more than 225 square miles of land specifically zoned for business and commercial use.

The public-private partnership was formed about 16 years ago by several local municipalities and industry groups. It has helped bring in billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs to the energy-producing region.

Rieman said another example is Aurora, Colorado’s medical campus that includes several health-related facilities and businesses.

“That is a tremendous asset for that region,” he said. “And this is the sort of thing we believe we can build in Wyoming and that could lead our energy economy.”

It is not clear how big of an industrial park or what type of state resources would be required to get the project underway.

But the state already has some funds earmarked for the project.

The state set aside $17 million, including $15 million for an integrated test center, in 2014 for the project. And during this year’s session, lawmakers approved Mead’s request to add $5 million in contingent funds to start a reserve account for the industrial park.

Don Collins, CEO of the Western Research Institute and a member of the board for the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said there is a lot of potential for the project. But he said it’s important to remember that this is a long-term undertaking.

He said another thing the state should take into account when selecting a potential site is how new clean-air requirements and other federal regulations would affect it down the road.

“This is a multi-decade kind of initiative and endeavor,” he said. “So one of the things we need to look at is not designing a park based on what the market is today, but what will the market look like 20 or 30 years from now.”

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