Leading Economic Growth: Adapting the Wyoming Energy Industry

Guest blog by Kaeci Daniels

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 61 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in December 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

What are some key ideas/learnings that you will take away from this course?

  • 1804 as a communication tool – The 1804 example was a good analogy to get people to understand that the problem is hard to understand. Using this example as a communication tool may be a great way to get buy-in and resources for the growth strategy team.
  • Fishbone Diagram – The fishbone diagram to is a great tool to find entry points on complex problems. Crafting the right team to develop the fishbone diagram is essential for fully grasping the growth problem and its sub-problems.
  • PDIA and SLDC – PDIA is nimble for finding and testing solutions when the problem is not well understood. SLDC can be beneficial when a problem is well defined, as shown in the Singapore example.
  • Inclusion over redistribution – This was significant. Redistribution of resources does not necessarily enable growth and it may even create disincentives for production. If government is to use public funds to promote growth, it should be done in a way that captures people outside of accessible markets and creates opportunity for new markets to emerge or be engaged. A focus on inclusion can mean the difference in a long-term widespread growth policy versus short-term accommodations.

What progress did you make or what insights did you have about your growth challenge throughout the 10-week time period?

  • In a lot of ways, we are facing the 1804 challenge with the new energy frontier. There are a variety of new technologies being tested that have not been scaled at the utility level. Similar to developing the national interstate system to give travelers certainty and safety, we need to make a strategic bet on which energy resources are most likely to achieve the goal of a reliable net-zero emissions grid. Traditional utility class cost of service regulation will not achieve such a large-scale goal because its mechanisms, despite being logical and practical, only allow for incremental growth to those that can afford the investment cost. Strategic bets come with inherent risk, and the loss associated with a poor strategic bet for energy infrastructure would be significant since interstate energy systems require years of planning and billions in investment cost. To hedge the risk, the Wyoming Energy Authority must: (1) Work collaboratively with its neighboring states to create synergy in partnerships and energy investment; and (2) Rely on the rest of the Wyoming growth team to identify and implement more near-term solutions that spur other economic growth.

How are you using or will you use what you have learned in this course?

  • The Wyoming Energy Authority hosts monthly meetings called energy roundtables. These meetings are held with energy industry leaders, governmental agencies that work with energy, and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources. The purpose of the energy roundtable is to give the energy industry the opportunity to talk about the work they do and where government could help. These collaborative calls were initiated before the start of this course but can be taken further using the information learned over the last ten weeks. One example being to incorporate an in-depth iterative follow-up process with our guest speakers from the energy industry in order to dive deeper into the conversation.
  • The Wyoming growth team is developing a plan to deploy funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The funding will be used in the Governor’s Survive, Drive, and Thrive plan which has ten goals.
  • Retain and attract working families and young adults to Wyoming
  • Activate new economic sectors and create new job opportunities
  • Align & balance workforce, economic development, and educational opportunities; support opportunities to upskill and/or retrain Wyoming workers
  • Broadband and Connect Wyoming
  • Healthcare Solutions
  • Outdoor Recreation and Wildlife
  • Food supply and food pantries
  • Infrastructure Projects
  • State Government Efficiency
  • Support Cities, Counties, Towns and Tribes

The Wyoming growth team attempted a fishbone diagram with the key stakeholders of this project, which were typically agency heads. Through this process, and using the five “whys”, we quickly realized that despite key stakeholders coming to the table with broad solutions, not one knew how to implement their proposed solution. As we continued to work through the fishbone diagram for some of the above listed goals, we found that there was significant overlap between goals, and there were similar entry points to test solutions. Breaking the problem down not only brought the problem into its proper perspective, but it also created confidence and buy-in for the selection process used in evaluating the ARPA proposals. We have not yet completed the state-wide fishbone diagram, but because the ARPA funds have to be obligated by December 31, 2024, and unexpended funds are subject to recapture or return by December 31, 2026, we have to move forward with the funding selection process despite the incomplete fishbone diagram. We are currently in the Drive phase of evaluating proposals to award with ARPA funds. The proposals are for three years of funding, but the Wyoming team intends to use the material learned in this course to manage the progress of the projects as we complete our assessment of the problem. Using the iterative approach will help us see which projects need to be tabled, and which projects need to be heated up with more funds and/or resources.

What open questions do you have that you wish the next course could answer?

  • How does one typically attract capital for fundamental infrastructure development? What partners do you engage and how? Is it the World Bank, IMF, neighboring states? If you cannot attract financing for fundamental infrastructure, then what are the basic incentives (outside of ease to entry) that states have offered to have private firms develop the infrastructure? It seems more clear-cut for the United States, but it would have been interesting to hear more about how developing counties handle this.
  • I would have liked to hear more about the Singapore Miracle. It sounded like their success came from Singapore’s leadership using more of an SLDC approach, so it would have been interesting to hear more about successful SLDC strategies in addition to the PDIA case studies provided. What allowed the leadership team to skip a dedicated iterative? Is it because the problem of survival was clearly understood?

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