CHEYENNE – A group of residents wants Wyoming voters to help increase taxes on wind energy in 2020.
Wind Wyoming’s Way announced Wednesday it would spend the next year-and-a-half gathering signatures and trying to build support to increase taxes on wind energy production.
The group proposes raising the current tax from $1 per megawatt hour to $5 per megawatt hour. It also would eliminate the three-year tax exemption currently in place for new wind projects.
“This initiative will open the door for what, I think, is the silent majority out there that have been afraid to disagree with their elected officials on this issue,” said Jeb Steward, chairman of Wind Wyoming’s Way.
Steward, a former Republican member of the Wyoming House of Representatives from Encampment, said the group is a bipartisan effort to find a way to make wind energy production pay for the impacts it has on the state’s landscape. Just as the mineral industry has a severance tax, Steward said wind energy production should have one, as well.
“The wind industry has been very successful in making an argument that any tax increase will drive them away, and they won’t be able to follow through with all the projects they’ve proposed,” Steward said. “In the Legislature, you’re used to hearing the arguments from the energy industry. And, by and large, I recognize that’s a tool in their toolbox. But I don’t think the wind energy industry is going to walk away from the best wind in the country.”
To get their initiative on the 2020 ballot, the group will have to collect 30,792 signatures from across the state. Steward said they are in the very early stages of the process, and as of now intend to use volunteers to collect signatures.
Steward said since much of the energy produced is being transmitted across state lines, the tax increase would affect out-of-state users and not have a significant impact on Wyoming.
The tax increase proposed by Wind Wyoming’s Way mirrors a bill that’s been filed in the House this session. House Bill 96 is sponsored by Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, with Reps. Jim Blackburn, R-Cheyenne, and Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, and Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, as co-sponsors.
It would impose the same level of tax on wind energy production as the ballot proposal would, but it would still keep in place the three-year tax exemption for new projects. The fiscal note for HB 96 estimates the tax would raise $8.1 million in 2020 and $17.2 million in 2021.
Case has been a longtime advocate of increasing taxes on the wind energy industry, and said he was excited to see his friend Steward take on this issue through the ballot process.
While there are strong similarities between the ballot proposal and HB 96, Case said the bill could be changed substantially as it works its way through the legislative process. And he said it is important for Wind Wyoming’s Way to be out in the public, advocating for a tax on wind energy production.
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