CHEYENNE – A House committee on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would extend by two years a moratorium on the ability of wind farm developers to forcibly take land so they can stretch power lines to their turbines.
Supporters of the proposal, House Bill 230, said extending the current one-year moratorium would ease landowners’ wariness of eminent domain when dealing with wind developers. The moratorium currently is scheduled to expire June 30.
Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie and the main sponsor of the bill, said his proposal was a “last ditch effort” to keep the protection in place until the Legislature can address whether eminent domain should be allowed in such cases by private wind energy companies.
Lawmakers last year imposed the one-year moratorium after concerns were raised that a potential boom in wind farm development might leave many landowners without fair treatment and compensation because of the power of eminent domain hanging over their heads. Landowners without turbines on their land typically don’t receive as much compensation as landowners with turbines.
“It’s kind of like being in the kitchen trying to make a deal and the other guy’s holding a gun,” Brown said. “Even if he’s pointing it at the floor, he’s still got the gun.”
Eminent domain is the forced acquisition of private property for public use and has been used to build railroads, pipelines and other projects.
Wind developers said the threat of eminent domain use was overblown. No wind companies have yet used eminent domain for collector lines in Wyoming, they said, and lack of transmission lines makes it extremely unlikely that any collector lines will be built in the next two years.
Collector lines are small power lines strung from wind turbines to the main power grid. With hundreds of turbines making up individual wind farms, the potential number of collector lines can be numerous and involve multiple landowners surrounding the land where the wind turbines are located.
Dan Sullivan, a lobbyist with the Wyoming Power Producers Coalition, a group of Wyoming independent wind developers, said extending the moratorium is “sending a message” to wind developers “of how friendly Wyoming is to that development.”
Brown and others said there needs to be more study on the issue to come up with a way to address the compensation concerns of landowners surrounding the wind farms.
House Agriculture Committee members approved the legislation 9-0. The bill must now pass three votes in the full House before it would go to the Senate for consideration.
Last month, the House Minerals Committee shot down a one-year extension of the ban, as well as a different proposals to restrict or permanently ban the ability of private wind companies to use eminent domain when building collector lines to wind turbine sites.
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