Home to 578,759 people spread out over a vast 97,093, Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation with a population density lower than any state except Alaska. Wyoming is covered by Rocky Mountains to the west and High Plains to the east. Because it is in the rain shadow of the Rockies, the state is fairly arid, though it has a lot of glaciers and snowpack. Almost half of Wyoming is owned by the federal government, and the state is home to many national parks and monuments, including Yellowstone, the country’s first national park. Wyoming was the first territory in the nation to grant women the right to vote. It was also the first state to elect a female governor all the way back in 1925.
When it comes to climate change, Wyoming is vulnerable to increasing heat, melting snowpack and glaciers, reduced water availability, and more frequent and severe wildfires.
In 2020, Wyoming and the rest of the Northern Great Plains are experiencing an average of 159 days a year with temperatures below freezing. It is projected that, as the planet continues to warm, the number could drop to an average of just 79 days per year by 2100. As the cold recedes, extreme heat will accelerate in the Great Plains region. Days where the maximum temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit are projected to double by mid-century in Wyoming’s region. This is extremely harmful to Wyoming’s residents and agriculture industry.
The growing heat has additional consequences. Snowpack and glaciers are declining in Wyoming, reducing the reliability of surface water for cities, farmers and ecosystems. By 2030, many of Wyoming’s 1,500 glaciers are likely to retreat or disappear completely if we continue on our current climate path. With more warm days, snow comes later and melts earlier, leaving less time for accumulation. The reduced water availability combined with increasing temperatures threaten crops and animal agriculture in Wyoming, as well as Wyoming’s local ecosystems.
Wyoming’s high temperatures and low water availability make more common the factors that contribute to wildfires:wildfires, drought, and dead trees. These are expected to increase harming property, livelihoods and human health.
Rising temperatures, persistent drought and aquifer depletion could threaten the long-term sustainability of the Great Plains, with scientists hesitantly predicting a second Dust Bowl. This could have absolutely devastating effects on local agriculture, the industry to which the majority of land in the Great Plains is devoted, producing $92 billion in products each year. Climate change’s blow to agriculture will have a major negative impact on Wyoming’s economy.
As of now, Wyoming’s only climate action plan dates back in 2013. Without any deadlines for carbon emission reduction or long-term planning, all action items were to be instigated in the year of publication. It calls for no green energy, just the promotion of more natural gas. The plan mentions vague “efficient, effective regulation,” but does not go into specifics. It does call for some resource conservation, but calling the plan a “climate action plan” is weak at best.
It’s no surprise that Wyoming’s 2013 “climate action plan” does not focus at all on green energy. Fossil fuels are the state’s biggest business. Wyoming has been the top coal-producing state in the nation since 1986, accounting for 39.2% of all coal mined the country as of 2019. Wyoming also ranks among the top 10 states for both the largest natural gas reserves and the highest marketed natural gas production. Wyoming is also the eighth-largest crude oil-producing state in the nation in 2019, accounting for nearly 3% of U.S. total crude oil output. All of this energy output makes Wyoming the biggest net energy supplier in the United States, putting out nearly 15 times more energy than it consumes. Wyoming’s large energy producing sector and small population makes it, after Louisiana, the state second in per capita energy consumption and the second most energy-intensive state economy.
For its own consumption, Wyoming relies mainly on coal, which produces 86% of Wyoming’s electricity generation. Surprisingly, wind energy produces 9%. Small hydroelectric facilities and natural gas-fired and petroleum-fueled generating units account for most of the remaining 5% of Wyoming’s state-used generation. Overall, renewable energy accounts for 11% of the electricity in Wyoming.
Wyoming has some of the largest wind resources in the nation. Sustained winds are funneled through the state’s mountain passes and out across the high prairie, which enables Wyoming wind farms to operate at high capacity levels. The amount of wind-powered generating capacity installed in Wyoming has grown rapidly in the last decade, and the state ranked 17th in the nation at the end of 2019 with nearly 1,600 megawatts of generating capacity from just over 1,000 turbines. Several large wind projects are in development or under construction. Energy companies seek customers for Wyoming’s wind power in several western states that have significant renewable energy requirements. Consequently, there are several large transmission projects in Wyoming to transport the state’s wind-generated electricity to Nevada, Arizona, and California.
CREDIT: Climate One