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Natural gas plans move further ahead than ever

Plans to bring natural gas to Sundance may be closer to fruition than ever, according to Mayor Paul Brooks, speaking after representatives from the city met with Black Hills Energy last week.

It’s a project Brooks has been attempting to pursue for a number of years. However, despite finding potential partnerships and answering various practical problems, he was never able to push past all the roadblocks.

Until now, he says. The meeting with Black Hills Energy was a level beyond anything he’s managed to achieve before.

“I have never got beyond the entry-level marketing guy before and we are now meeting with corporate executives from Black Hills and noone has said no. I’m fairly optimistic,” he says.

“One of the cornerstones of the Black Hills corporation’s plan is to grow their business, and adding communities grows their business. I would call them very engaged.”

Brooks first became interested in the idea of natural gas as an alternative to coal as a local energy source, particularly for larger businesses and industry in the area, and also partially due to the rising number of cars fueled by natural gas.

It was originally a project suggested by Wyoming Rural Development, with Pine Haven expressing interest in coming onboard and the Wyoming Business Council also joining the discussion.

Little progress has been made in the past three years, but Brooks says he never gave up. At the meeting, Black Hills Energy was able to provide a ballpark figure to make it happen.

“The price tag is $60 million,” Brooks says.

Hopefully, he says, there will be some available funding under the federal infrastructure bill to cover this cost. However, says the mayor, “Obviously, the concern is the match – our skin in the game – is going to be difficult to come up with.”

Kathy Lenz and Tyler Lindholm were present at the meeting representing U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis and, “They didn’t believe it was un-doable,” Brooks says.

The Sundance Economic Development Committee was similarly optimistic, he continues.

“The economic development people believe that there are maybe some economic development prospects based on the fact that, when companies want to come to your communities, there are a few things they want to know…and one of them is natural gas and reliable electricity and so on,” he says.

“There was some discussion that our economic viability may be somewhat dependent on this.”

Exactly how much the city would need to raise is not yet known.

“We’re not quite at that point – we don’t even have hard numbers,” Brooks says. Without those, and without knowing what percentage of the total the matching funds would be, it’s not possible to predict how much this will cost for Sundance.

Even the $60 million is not set in stone, Brooks points out, but it’s a good number to future-proof the project.

“We could probably shave off $12 million or $15 million, but we may outgrow the size of our gas plant. When you bring gas in, it’s a finite resource,” he explains.

“If you use welded steel pipe, the pressure is higher, so you can get a lot more gas through. If you use the plastic, there’s just a finite amount of gas you’re going to pump through that system.”

Why now, rather than back when the idea was first floated? A lot has changed in Sundance since that time, Brooks says.

Back then, the Croell Companies headquarters and the new Grossenburg Implement and Pixley buildings were not yet complete, Old Stoney was not finished and the coal boilers in the schools and courthouse were expected to last forever, Brooks says.

“I started this fight many years ago and nobody was very interested. Subsequent to that, we’ve got more large buildings and we have a lot of coal boilers that are starting to age out and there’s no viable replacement for them,” he explains.

Many aspects of the original plan have since changed, including the proposed direction that the natural gas would come from.

“From their studies, they are more inclined to believe it needs to come from Moorcroft and come down the interstate because currently the cost of right-of-way acquisition is so high,” Brooks says.

It’s meanwhile unlikely that Sundance could partner with Pine Haven on the project.

“They could certainly tap it and run it to their community where it goes by them, and there was some discussion of that, but make no mistake: it takes a lot of houses to create the demand that one great big building has,” Brooks says.

For citizens of Sundance, the plan would bring two advantages, Brooks says. The first is flexibility, offering a competitive alternative to propane.

This is particularly important in the current global climate, he adds.

“We’re not going to let Europe go cold this winter,” he says. “If Putin doesn’t turn Nord Stream back on – and we could be in a prolonged war in Ukraine for a long time – we may see the liquid natural gas market remain high for a long period because they’re going to be shipping all that we can spare to Europe.”

It will also support the economic development of the city, encouraging business to either come to Sundance or stay here.

“You don’t grow a community overnight,” he says. “You grow it by inching the ball forward and any time you can add a value-added service like natural gas for a potential business that wants to come to town, it just ups your chances of being successful in getting that business in your community.”

At last week’s meeting, Black Hills Energy presented the model they’ve been building and asked for input from the city, primarily on whether or not Sundance would prefer to invest in the future-proof solution.

The next meeting will take place in about a month, and should bring some more concrete details on what Black Hills Energy will be able to do and on the potential funding sources.

“At this point we, the city, aren’t doing a whole lot, because there’s quite a lot of this that’s beyond us. Having Kathy and Tyler looking at federal dollars, me talking to the Wyoming Business Council – there are ongoing conversations with other stakeholders,” Brooks says.

“We’re going to continue on. We haven’t been told no and I’m much more optimistic than I have been in the past.”

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