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UW Research Examines Wyoming Community Perspectives on Net-Zero Carbon Energy Economy

February 22, 2022

A new study from the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources (SER) Center for Energy Regulation and Policy Analysis (CERPA) explores Wyoming residents’ views on achieving a net-zero carbon energy economy.

The survey, conducted on the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, specifically examines the needs, expectations and concerns of Wyoming citizens related to a carbon-neutral future, as well as the opportunities and technologies that stakeholders feel will be more effective in meeting that goal in Wyoming.

The full survey summary is available online at www.uwyo.edu/cerpa and is part of the larger Intermountain West Energy Sustainability and Transitions (I-WEST) initiative focused on developing a technology roadmap to transition the region to an economically sustainable, carbon-neutral energy system.

Led by Selena Gerace, a CERPA associate research scientist, the survey was conducted in collaboration with Jessica Western, of Big Goose Creek Resolutions, a research scientist specializing in natural resources and human dimensions.

“This survey was designed to help us better understand what Wyoming residents think about carbon-neutral energy technologies,” Gerace says. “We want to know if people are open to having these technologies in or near their communities and what their concerns are, especially those communities that will be most affected from a change in the energy mix.”

The survey was conducted through random solicitation of nearly 700 residents among the 12 counties most involved with energy operations -- Campbell, Carbon, Converse, Crook, Fremont, Lincoln, Natrona, Sheridan, Sweetwater, Sublette, Park and Uinta.

The researchers noted differences between counties in level of support for energy developments of various kinds, but respondents believe energy development generally is very important now -- 94 percent -- and in the future, also at 94 percent, with 43 percent believing it is important for Wyoming to transition to carbon-neutral energy types.

The majority of respondents believe the state is going through an energy transition and that it is a long-term development.

Results indicate that most respondents supported carbon-neutral technologies related to carbon capture, utilization and storage; wind; nuclear; and solar energy. Adding hydrogen to the energy mix appears to need more explanation to Wyoming residents, with a large number indicating that they were unsure about it.

Building off the results of a survey conducted in 2020 on the social license for Wyoming’s energy future (www.uwyo.edu/haub/ruckelshaus-institute/), the researchers considered factors important to respondents to learn why or why not they may be receptive to a certain type of technology over others. These include Wyoming’s scenery, biological diversity and recreation opportunities, economic opportunities and sense of community.

Although supported by the majority of respondents, it was significantly noted that wind was the carbon-neutral energy type with the most amount of opposition. According to the report, the researchers believe this is explained through the value placed on open spaces and aesthetics in Wyoming.

A final key takeaway observed in the study indicated that the political affiliation and worldviews of those surveyed created the most differences in responses. Generally, respondents with a Republican Party affiliation and conservative worldviews were supportive of fossil fuel-related energy types, mining operations and nuclear energy, while Democratic- and Independent-affiliated participants preferred carbon-neutral energy types.

“As one of the nation’s largest energy-producing states, it is important that the perspectives of Wyoming residents on carbon-neutral technologies be considered,” says Scott Quillinan, SER senior director of research. “One of the primary goals of the I-WEST project is to understand the perspectives of the communities and people who will be affected the most by changes in energy development.”

As part of the I-WEST initiative, SER is working toward a better understanding of Wyoming’s needs and concerns in achieving a net-zero energy mix.

For more information, visit the SER website at www.uwyo.edu/ser.

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