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Panel rejects eminent domain ban for Wyoming wind developers

CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s ban on giving wind developers eminent domain powers will likely expire this summer after legislators shelved a proposal to extend the ban.

The House Minerals Committee on Monday indefinitely postponed legislation that would have imposed another one-year moratorium on non-utility companies’ ability to use eminent domain when building collector lines to wind turbine sites.

State lawmakers voted last year to create a one-year moratorium on the practice; that moratorium ends July 1.

The legislation came out of a proposal made last fall by the state’s Wind Energy Task Force to permanently ban wind developers from having eminent domain powers. On Monday, Minerals Committee members amended that down to a new one-year ban before killing it off completely.

After the vote, multiple committee members said industry representatives had told them there were no plans to build collector lines to wind farms during the next year anyway.

Members offered other reasons for not extending the moratorium. State Rep. Jim Roscoe, D-Wilson, said many ranchers oppose an eminent domain ban, as they hope to lease their land to wind farm developers.

State Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, said it would also be unfair to ban eminent domain use for wind energy collector lines while allowing the practice for lines running to coal and gas power plants.

Roscoe said the one-year ban was proposed last year by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal in part to pressure federal officials to change requirements that power companies seeking to build transmission lines on public land must first examine alternate routes on private land.

That pressure hasn’t worked, Roscoe said.

Several legislators said they hope to take up the issue again during this year’s interim session.

“There’s no easy solution,” Stubson said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday unanimously passed unchanged legislation that would establish wind property rights alongside surface and mineral rights in Wyoming.

The bill would also prevent Wyoming landowners from selling their wind energy rights separately from their surface rights, as some property owners in the state have already done. And it would set time limits for wind energy producers to start developing land they’ve leased, or else the leases would be canceled.