Wyoming is on the right track to reduce uncertainty about taxes and regulations on the wind energy industry, say transmission line developers, but the state’s not there yet.
The developers’ work in Wyoming is largely tied to the explosion of wind farms here and other states’ demand for electricity generated by renewable energy sources. But while a number of large, high-power electricity transmission projects are underway, the developers have some concerns.
At a panel discussion at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority meeting in Jackson Feb. 1, the developers said the top concern was the ongoing lack of certainty about regulations and taxes.
“Anything that can be done to decrease the uncertainty,” said Adam Gassaway, project manager for LP Power, whose projects include the 180-mile Wyoming Colorado Intertie line and the Overland Transmission Project, a 550-mile line between Wyoming and Idaho.
Other concerns included retention of wind power-driven economic development and wind resource promotion.
The Wyoming Legislature is considering in the current session a range of bills that deal with wind energy. One piece of legislation modifies the $1-per-megawatt-hour wind energy tax approved last year by combining it with a sales tax on wind energy equipment into a single $3-per-megawatt-hour excise tax.
Another bill establishes wind as a property right alongside surface and mineral rights. Yet another piece of legislation extends 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.
Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said he was encouraged by Gov. Matt Mead’s inaugural speech and he’s waiting to see results of this legislative session.
“I think it was positive toward what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said of Mead’s speech. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, and so far we’re seeing some good things in the Legislature. The session is over in March, so we’ll see what happens when the dust clears.”
The state of Wyoming could lose out on some economic development spurred by wind energy – things like jobs and manufacturing – if it doesn’t attempt to keep it in the state, said David Smith, director of engineering and operations for TransWest Express, a 725-mile line that will run between Wyoming and Nevada and crosses Colorado and Utah.
Other states want that development, and they’re hungry for it, Smith said. “There’s lots of other places that same economic development could possibly take place in our market areas and they’re really looking at that as an opportunity for themselves,” he said.
“The state of Wyoming and the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority should spend some time out in the market and see what kinds of challenges Wyoming faces in the market, both in planning institutions and …policy,” Smith said.
Gassaway said he thinks Wyoming isn’t promoting its wind resources as much as it could. He was reading a magazine on a Delta Airways flight recently in which an article touted Montana’s wind resources, favorable regulatory environment and competitive marketplace.
“I don’t ever see anything like that from Wyoming,” he said.
Gassaway said wind developers had a relatively stable regulatory scheme in recent years, but that’s changed as lawmakers look at new rules and new tax structures.
They “may have been justified, but then we hear those are placeholders for a different tax scheme, well it’s really hard to develop any resources at all with that uncertainty,” he said.
Gassaway said he’s encouraged by the lawmakers’ work this legislative session, considers that work a “definite step forward” and said developers are starting to gain some certainty.
“Moving forward to that, and leaving it alone for awhile, would be positive,” he said.
Gov. Mead said he is striving for just such a thing.
“The regulatory environment is a priority for me. It needs to be certain, predictable and reasonable,” he said, in an e-mailed comment. “I feel there are collateral benefits from wind power, like keeping ranchers in ranching, giving a boost to our natural gas industry and improving the electrical transmission infrastructure.”
“We have world-class wind resources here in Wyoming and we need to match the regulatory environment to those resources and that will make it easy for me to go out and promote our wind power industry,” he said.
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