A group organized by a Wyoming senator plans to quintuple Wyoming’s wind tax in an unusual way – by a vote of the people.
Wyoming has a unique tax on wind energy production; just one other state levies a fee on wind power. A few lawmakers, like Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, have pressed for an increase to that tax for years, arguing that it fails to compensate for what’s lost in Wyoming: an unmolested landscape.
Industry supporters say wind is an economic boon and shouldn’t be stymied with taxes, while developers say the tax increase proposed year after year would break the favorable economics of Wyoming wind. That argument has held back lawmakers for some time, despite the efforts of Case and others.
Now the issue may go to the voters of Wyoming.
On Tuesday, Wind Wyoming’s Way – a small group organized by Case that includes a rancher and a former representative, announced that it would try to collect the 30,792 signatures required to place a $4 per megawatt hour increase on Wyoming’s unique wind energy tax on the ballot in 2020.
There’s a “silent majority” of Wyomingites who want the tax increased, said Jeb Steward of Wind Wyoming’s Way, who served in the Wyoming House of Representative from 2007 to 2013.
Citizen ballots initiatives are uncommon in Wyoming, certainly when compared to the bevy of such initiatives in states like Colorado, said Will Dinneen, spokesman for the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office.
That may be due to the “high hurdle” in Wyoming to get a petition approved for the ballot, he said.
In addition to needing more than 30,000 signatures – 15 percent of the most recent election’s voter turnout – Wind Wyoming’s Way will need to get its petition signed in two-thirds of Wyoming counties. The geographical balance requirement was born in a constitutional amendment lawmakers passed in 1997.
It’s not enough in the Cowboy State to collect your signatures for a ballot initiative in the population centers like Casper or Cheyenne – you have to harness broad support.
Lawmakers have tried and failed to increase Wyoming’s wind tax four times. First instituted in 2010 – with the weight of then Gov. Dave Freudenthal – the wind tax was meant to counteract some of the negative attributes of having steel towers on the landscape and force the industry to pay a greater share into the common economic good of Wyoming like its mining counterparts do.
Freudenthal said in a recent interview with the Star-Tribune that though he supported a higher wind tax initially, he does not believe that raising it now would be prudent. The former governor said his problem with wind energy was you never see a parking lot for employees next to a wind farm – alluding to the low manpower it takes to run a wind farm compared to some other industries, like mining.
But that’s not to say wind farms don’t contribute to local economies. Local governments in Wyoming’s windiest areas are hesitant to do anything that would scare away development and often lobby against an increase to the tax.
Some of Wyoming’s best wind whips through Carbon County, where officials recently asked lawmakers to reject Case’s 2019 bill to increase the wind tax to $5 per megawatt hour.
In addition to property and wind energy taxes that will flow into the county at some point, the Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind project will pay about $6 million a year in local assistance dollars – required compensation for large industrial projects in the state.
Recipients of those dollars – such as Hanna, Elk Mountain and Encampment – also signed the initiative to reject Case’s wind tax increase.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding