State lawmakers Canada-bound to tour energy complex as model for Wyoming
by Geoff O’Gara, Wyoming PBS (published with permission)
— February 26, 2014
CHEYENNE – Nine Wyoming legislators are flying Saturday on a state plane to Alberta, Canada, to look at a giant industrial complex that could be a model for a similar enterprise in southwest Wyoming.
Legislative leaders say the group will depart on a two-hour flight early Saturday morning and return late that night. The cost of the state plane runs roughly $1,000/hour, and the expenses will be covered by the Governor’s international trade office account.
Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette) mentioned the idea of a big new Wyoming industrial complex at a press conference early in the session, but since it involved no major expenditure in this year’s biennium budget, the proposal provoked little discussion. However, the so-called “Heartland” complex in Alberta that legislator’s will tour suggests a sizable price tag may face Wyoming if a similar project happens here: the Canadian site houses a $40 billion assemblage of industrial facilities, funded by a mixture of government funds, private investment and tax incentives.
The idea in Wyoming, according to Lubnau and Senate President Tony Ross (R-Cheyenne), would be to take advantage of Wyoming’s abundant natural resources including natural gas, trona, and water, and create incentives for industries to locate here and transform those raw materials into products including plastics, glass screens, and other goods.
Wyoming’s economy, Lubnau said, has changed little from the 1880s, when the state produced raw materials and cattle and shipped them away, often suffering busts when distant markets fluctuated. “This kind of development,” said Lubnau, “could change Wyoming from a colonial economy to a value-added economy.”
The trip to Alberta is meant to give legislators a view of the kind of industrial complex that could be built in Wyoming. Invited on the trip are Reps. Steve Harshman (R-Casper), Michael Greear (R-Worland), Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne), and John Freeman (D-Green River). From the opposite side of the Capitol, Sens. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower), Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), and Jim Anderson (R-Glenrock).
A location in southwest Wyoming is considered likely because the region has available water, state lands, and fuel supplies. Lubnau suggested that lands already mined for coal in the area would provide suitable and inexpensive sites, and the state could offer industries inexpensive energy with a capped price.
Presently, there is no price tag on the still-speculative Wyoming project. Industrial partners would be expected to pick up a sizable portion of the cost. Discussions with private investors have not been made public.