The first couple weeks of 2017 have been topsy-turvy time for wind energy firms in Wyoming, and those that hope to be operating in the state soon.
The year started out with State legislature file 127. That bill proposed increasing the state’s tax on wind energy generation from $1 to $5 per megawatt hour.
Another bill proposed in the legislature would essentially penalize local utilities who purchase green energy from producers.
Yet despite these spots of bad news, Power Company of Wyoming (PCW) received good news in form of the BLM issuing a finding of no new significant impacts for a Carbon County windfarm, as well as a record of decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approving PCW’s voluntary application for an eagle take permit.
Last week, the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) also released a record of decision finalizing the route of the TransWest Express Project, a transmission line to distribute Wyoming-generated green energy to California and other power-hungry Southwestern states.
Wind energy producers got more good news when the proposed tax hike on wind energy was killed by the House Revenue Committee Monday.
Currently, Wyoming is the only state in the U.S. which taxes wind production.
The recently failed tax echoes a proposal in 2016 that would have also increased wind energy generation tax. With that proposal, one lawmaker said the tax was necessary, even if it killed proposed projects in the state. That proposal died in September, under pressure brought by proponents and municipalities such as Carbon County.
Some lawmakers point out that as the state struggles to make ends meet, wind producers should have to chip in the way fossil fuel producers do. Proponents of wind energy however, point out that a increasing the tax per megawatt hour on a renewable resource is short sighted; once a mineral resource is extracted, it’s gone and can never be taxed again. Wind energy, as a renewable resource, continues to produce output from the same infrastructure.
The failure of the wind generation tax was a bullet dodged for PCW, whose Chokecherry/Sierra Madre Wind farm West of Saratoga and South of Rawlins would be one of the largest wind farms in the world once complete.
Another proposal by the state, called the “Electricity Production Standard,” would practically ban utilities operating in Wyoming from selling power generated by wind or solar by levying a tax of $10 per megawatt-hour. The bill would allow power to come from a list of six “approved” sources, including oil, natural gas, nuclear, coal and hydropower. Solar or wind are not on the list of approved energy sources. The bill was proposed despite the fact that nationwide, demand for coal has flatlined, with some analysts projecting a bearish outlook on coal in the future.
The “Electricity Production Standard” bill might not have a large impact on PCWs proposed Carbon County windfarm, however, since the project is intended to export Wyoming wind power to other states.
A decision by BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week should also bring PCW plans for construction of the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre windfarm a bit closer to fruition. The BLM issued a decision record after completing the second site-specific Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project. The BLM found no new significant impacts beyond those disclosed in the initial EIS in 2012.
At the same time as the BLM announced its decision record regarding the second EIS, (USFWS) announced a record of decision approving PCW’s voluntary application for an eagle take permit. According to (USFWS), the department can issue an eagle take permit after analyzing PCWs proposed efforts to mitigate eagle losses due to the wind farm.
According to a release by the agency, “Upon completion of final permit application requirements, PCW would be issued a ‘take’ (disturb, injure or kill) permit that would cover the anticipated eagle impacts.”
According to the release, the bald eagle is abundant enough with a steady enough population to withstand the impacts of the project. Golden eagle kills would have to be compensated for since that species is not as abundant as the bald eagle.
The release by the agency says electrocution of golden eagles by power distribution poles is a potential problem, but under the terms of the eagle take permit, PCW has committed to providing mitigation efforts to reduce that threat.
On Jan. 13, the WAPA, a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, announced a record of decision regarding a transmission line proposed by PCW’s sister company, TransWest. The WAPA moved to approve the 750-mile transmission line, clearing the way for engineering and design work to move forward.
Construction of roads and other infrastructure at the Phase I site of the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre windfarm began late last year and should resume this year as the weather improves.
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