New analysis sets framework for decarbonizing the Intermountain West’s energy economy

I-WEST initiative prioritizes local economic and social conditions based on stakeholder input to ensure communities have a voice in energy transition

December 8, 2022

The I-WEST initiative will create a roadmap to achieving a carbon-neutral economy in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming based on transitioning to carbon capture, low-carbon hydrogen, bioenergy and low-carbon electricity.

A new report lays the foundation for the Intermountain West region to meet the national 2050 carbon-neutrality goal while considering jobs, communities and the environment. Produced by Intermountain West Energy Sustainability and Transition, or I-WEST, in collaboration with stakeholders across the region, the Phase One Final Report analyzes how to get there through four regionally appropriate, mutually reinforcing energy-technology pathways — carbon capture, utilization and storage; low-carbon hydrogen; bioenergy and low-carbon electricity.

The report notes that the six I-WEST states — Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — share fossil-fuel-based economies and challenges related to climate change.

“The key objectives of I-WEST are to develop a roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality, but to do so with stakeholder input, and to build new, sustainable-energy-related economies,” said Kevin John, I-WEST technical lead at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which heads the initiative. “I-WEST is a place-based initiative that prioritizes regional attributes and societal readiness first. Technology readiness is secondary.“

As major producers and exporters of fossil-based energy, the six states are highly vulnerable to social and economic disruptions as a result of energy transition, but also enjoy advantages that could position them as emerging leaders in new energy economies. The report explores the opportunities and challenges associated with carbon capture, low-carbon hydrogen, bioenergy and low-carbon electricity, along with potential next steps for developing them into viable economies in the region.

I-WEST partners are Arizona State University, the Colorado School of Mines, Montana State University, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Resources for the Future, San Juan College, the University of New Mexico, the University of Utah and the University of Wyoming. The U.S. Department of Energy funded the work through its Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management and Bioenergy Technologies Office.

In addition to analyzing the four energy pathways, the report covers energy and social-justice, environmental and policy issues, along with economic and workforce impacts of the energy transition.

Public engagement

The coming energy transition creates an opportunity to partner with communities to advance environmental, energy, and social justice.

“Traditionally, technology development and implementation followed a linear path, with public engagement late in the process,” said John Sarrao, deputy laboratory director for Science, Technology & Engineering at Los Alamos. “History shows that approach doesn’t always benefit communities and can slow down deployment, so I-WEST started with an extended dialog with state, sovereign nation, industry and other stakeholders first.”

In 2021 and 2022, I-WEST engaged with groups  through a series of state-based and region-wide workshops, followed by ongoing one-on-one and small-group listening sessions.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that areas hardest hit by energy transition need to be engaged at the front end of energy projects,” John said. “I-WEST heard loud and clear that local stakeholders want to be partners in the decision-making process so that sustained energy projects prioritize regional attributes and societal readiness first.”

Multiple, symbiotic technologies

The report discusses how the four distinct, yet highly interdependent energy economies could be developed to achieve carbon neutrality in the Intermountain West. Underpinning the report is an overarching strategy of translating CO2 from a liability to an asset, enabling the development of economies based on reducing the climate-warming gas in the atmosphere. While building out these economies and the technologies they’re based on, the region can foster new industries leveraging the unique infrastructure, workforce and natural resources in local communities.

“I-WEST exemplifies how states, sovereign nations, cities, counties and small rural towns within our region are coming together to address what may be one of the biggest and most difficult challenges of our time: transforming our energy ecosystem while simultaneously creating an environment that is more just and more equitable,” said Sarrao.

Next steps

Further research and analysis are needed to better understand the complexities of the symbiotic economies outlined in the I-WEST report. More detailed and precise forecasts for the Intermountain West require a holistic look at the energy-water-climate nexus, an in-depth assessment of existing and emergent technologies, an inventory of regional infrastructure and integrated social, economic and environmental justice assessments.

The report is available at