When the Laramie Youth Council was deciding what projects it wanted to work on this year, one of the major criteria the high school group considered was the potential impact on the community.
Earlier this week, the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee was considering a bill that would potentially jeopardize one of the council’s chosen projects, which is to install solar panels at the high school.
The Youth Council knew they had to do something about it, and ready to see that impact, they traveled to Cheyenne to speak before the committee.
After multiple hours waiting in line, the students were able to add their voices to the masses who were against the bill.
The two bills would’ve overhauled the state’s net metering system and, as many who testified pointed out, would have all but killed the solar power industry in Wyoming. Net metering allows customers who generate more electricity than they use — for instance, with solar power — to sell it back to the electrical grid.
One bill would’ve removed the net metering rules completely, while the other tried to reduce the cost power companies would have to pay for the excess energy consumers sell back.
After hearing the overwhelming opposition, including from the Youth Council, the committee narrowly decided to nix the two bills.
“These bills would’ve negatively impacted so many people’s lives: people who are employed, people who just have renewable energy on their homes, companies,” junior Leila Johnson told the Laramie Boomerang Thursday. “I’m glad we could at least do our part to set it back for a while.”
Since their appearance Tuesday, LHS senior and Youth Council chair Arundathi Nair said the council has received a lot of positive feedback about their testimony, with folks reaching out and “saying that they really think that out of all the public testimony, ours was probably one of the most impactful.”
“A lot of people have emailed us and said that we had probably helped change a couple of the people’s minds,” Nair added. “We don’t know for sure, obviously, but it was just cool to think we had an impact on that.”
Nair added the council was one of the few testimonies that didn’t have a direct financial stake in the bill, unlike the ones from solar panel companies or residents with personal solar power units or even power companies, one of the few groups who supported the bill.
To avoid potential redundancies or stances that could alienate lawmakers, Nair said the students “had to think very strategically about how we were going to frame our argument.”
“Obviously we all understand climate change, but trying to convince a different demographic of people, we had to take a different approach for that,” Nair said. “We tried to approach it from the perspective of economic diversification.”
The Youth Council is no stranger to lobbying; last year’s council went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February to testify in favor of a juvenile criminal record expungement bill, which was passed unanimously.
The success of last year’s lobbying efforts helped to motivate the council to go back this year.
Although she didn’t testify directly last year, Johnson said a lot of what she learned from writing letters and talking one-on-one with legislators in February helped her going into this year’s lobbying efforts.
“When you’re talking one on one with a legislator, you have to approach it in a much different way and connect with them more personally,” she explained. “But with so many more of them, it’s harder to make that connection, and I think that connection is essential to getting your message across.”
That personal connection is part of what helped them decide to make the trip to the state capital to make their case rather than making a phone call or sending a letter.
“I felt like it would’ve been better for them to see the youth, instead of just like an email that we send to them, see their future and how this bill will impact us, what will happen to us,” said freshman Thomas McCoy, another member of the Youth Council.
Beyond how the bill would’ve potentially affected their own solar panel project, freshman member Ava Bohlender said the lobbying experience was a chance to learn more about local government and how people can have a voice.
“It was really a big deal for me to go there and just experience that, really getting to know the legislators, what they do, their careers, just a part of our government and how I can interact with that is kind of huge for me,” she said.
Of the council members not graduating in the spring, many expressed the desire to lobby again in some way next year and even as they transition into college and later adulthood.
“It’s better to know what’s happening in your community and in your government,” McCoy said. “If you don’t like it, then change it rather than just letting it happen anyway.”
The council has other projects it’s working on this year, including a plastic bag tax and a workshop at the 2020 Wyoming Association of Municipalities summer conference in Laramie.