Energy Authority to combine three agencies

By Mark Wilcox

Wyoming Business Report

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON – “Things have changed” in the energy industry in recent years, according to Jason Begger, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.

And with those changes, he said, it’s time to change the way the state of Wyoming interfaces with the energy industry.

Specifically, Begger said the Wyoming Pipeline Authority once only oversaw oil and gas lines, whereas enhanced oil recovery lines delivering carbon dioxide to depleted fields also now falls under their purview. And instead of centralized power plants, the energy industry is delivering to more decentralized systems that even incorporate solar projects and the like.

“As the energy industry evolved, we discovered a need for the authorities to evolve as well to meet the needs of the times,” Begger said.

In the 2019 legislative session, Senate File 37 called for the creation of the Wyoming Energy Authority, a combination of multiple state agencies interacting with and advocating for the state’s bread-and-butter energy industry. The new agency will become the “one-stop shop” for energy producers who need to interact with the state, according to Wyoming Pipeline Authority Administrator Carla Hubbard.

Specifically, the bill outlined the combination of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority with the Wyoming Pipeline Authority, including a compression of funding and responsibilities. Begger, in addressing the crowd at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority’s spring conference in Jackson last month, said the combination would also draw in the State Energy Office, though that’s not specifically mentioned in legislation.

“It has to do with timing,” Hubbard said. “Their [the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority’s] responsibilities have blossomed and we’re doing the same thing we always have.”

Among other duties, the Wyoming Pipeline Authority advocates the development of pipeline capacity from Wyoming, supports industry that wants to build in Wyoming and consume natural gas and supports other new markets for natural gas like liquefied natural gas exports.

The State Energy Office, for its part, oversees tackling energy-efficiency projects within the state that can save taxpayers money. The office often uses federal grant money to offer programs that reduce energy consumption, according to a web page on the Wyoming Business Council website.

Meanwhile, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority has been gobbling up more responsibilities since its 2004 inception. While created to “diversify and expand the state’s economy by adding value to Wyoming’s energy resources and infrastructure,” the agency has since been granted $1 billion in bonding authority. The bonding authority goes toward financing transmission infrastructure and coal export facilities – both of which face stiff geopolitical headwinds the agency is attempting to temper.

The bill creating the Wyoming Energy Authority called for a reorganization plan for the affected offices, programs and functions by May 15. The plan was to come through Begger of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.

“Six short weeks away – we’ll have an implementation plan,” said Begger at the end of March, indicating rolling together the agencies would take a year and a half beyond that. “By summertime, we’ll have to put together a budget to see how we capture current responsibilities and add to them a little bit.”

But that likely won’t mean an increased budget, Begger said, quoting a legislator who told him, “Don’t think you’re getting any more money out of us – we might ask you to take a little bit of a haircut.”

Still, Begger said he’s optimistic the combination will lead to good results for the agencies.

“We’re going to be doing the same things but expand to meet the needs that exist today,” he said.

The new board structured for the Wyoming Energy Authority has ex officio members from the University of Wyoming’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, the Wyoming Business Council and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“Everybody will be communicating much better … by having those entities represented on the board,” Begger said.

Hubbard of the Wyoming Pipeline Authority mentioned specifically that the Wyoming Energy Authority would have biannual meetings with the EORI and the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming.

All of this underscores the primary goal of the reorganization.

“We’re going to package key functions to live beyond the existing authorities,” Begger said. “We’re a service to the state and to stakeholders.”

The legislation creating the Wyoming Energy Authority called for the transition to be complete by July 1, 2020.