Wyoming Legislators Covet a Cut of Federal ‘Windfall’

January 10, 2017 By Cheryl Kaften

A joint resolution sponsored by State Senator Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) and five other lawmakers in the Wyoming Legislature, which convenes its 2017 General Session today, urges the U.S. Congress to pass legislation granting states 50 percent for any rent or right-of-way fees for wind projects on federal land, according to a January 9 report by the Casper Star Tribune.

To date, Wyoming has not received any of the fees now collected by the federal government on wind projects.

For proponents there is no downside to the measure, called Federal land wind and solar energy revenue – state share (S.J. No. 0002) It would not increase the tax and fee burden on wind developers but would add to state revenue during a time of decline, the local news outlet said..

“Everything gets exported to Washington in some way, like we’re some colony rather than being a state,Driscoll told the Star Tribune, adding, “They need to understand that they need to share with us.”

The bill also represents a reflection of lawmakers’ growing interest in how wind development should fit into the state’s revenue portfolio.

Indeed, another bill introduced during this session would raise Wyoming’s wind tax. Wyoming’s traditional resources — oil, gas and coal — are well established, contributing up to 70 percent of the state’s tax income. Those sources are also struggling to hold the bottom line while wind and solar become cheaper to produce.

Renewables are uncharted ground, Driskill said. “It brings us closer to the process as far as what’s happening in our own state,” he told the newspaper. “Wyoming needs to play an active role in what its future is and how it’s done and not just follow the federal government around.”

The legislation also would apply to projects like the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Energy farm in Carbon County, which — once permitted and constructed — will be the home to 1,000 turbines. The massive project resides on a checkerboard of state, federal and private land.

That’s a red flag to local power companies.

“Just about every legislator we’ve met with asks us, ‘You tell us how much we can tax you before we put you out of business,” Power Co. of Wyoming CEO Bill Miller told a national news outlet, the Los Angeles Times. “I just shake my head and say, ‘Zero.”

Miller told the Times that Wyoming is at risk of “taxing this project out of existence.”

Now, although it remains to be seen how Wyoming lawmakers will respond to the resolution, Driskill expects many will show support, he told the Star Tribune. “It’s a no-brainer, if you’re from Wyoming,” he said. “Wyoming gets its fair share. It’s kind of a slam dunk.”

Of course, the resolution would also need to find favor in Congress.

“I feel like we’ve got a good chance to be heard,” Driskill said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be, but we have a good chance. This is one that makes it clear to Congress that Wyoming wants its seat at the table with the federal government.”

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