Wyoming needs to stop stalling wind power

What’s at stake with the Republican push to tax renewable energy companies

 

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan observed that under his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, “Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: ‘If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.’” 

Reagan’s quip about the government’s interfering tendency under a Democratic president drew laughter from those attending a White House Conference on Small Business just over 30 years ago.  But in Wyoming, a handful of Republican lawmakers have pushed a three-fold increase or more in the tax rate on wind-energy production, and that is no laughing matter. 

Pronghorns graze on the prairie at Duke Energy's Campbell Hill Windpower Project near Casper, Wyoming.
Duke Energy

Wyoming is the only state in the nation that imposes a $1 per megawatt-hour tax specifically on power generation from wind. For a state where the Republican-dominated Legislature routinely invokes Reagan’s legacy, this proposal –– recently considered and fortunately rejected by Wyoming’s Joint Revenue Interim Committee –– contradicts his low-tax approach.

Here’s what’s at stake: For the last nine years, the Power Company of Wyoming has been planning what it calls the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project. Its 1,000 turbines would spin on private, state and federal land near the towns of Rawlins and Sinclair, in Carbon County. Construction was slated to start this year on the $5 billion project, which, if built, would become the largest wind farm in North America, generating up to 3,000 megawatts of clean energy. That is enough to power approximately 1 million homes and reduce CO2 emissions by 7 to 11 million tons per year. Just as Texas and several other states have seen cheaper per kilowatt-hour power for consumers as energy markets have been deregulated and additional capacity from renewables like wind and solar have come online, expanded energy-production from Wyoming wind would help consumers and the economy.

When entrepreneurs decide to invest billions of dollars and almost a decade’s worth of planning to develop new technologies, build significant infrastructure, and create thousands of new and well-paying jobs, they do so believing that a state’s tax and regulatory policy will be predictable enough to allow them to earn sufficient returns on their capital investment. But as Bill Miller, CEO of the Power Company of Wyoming, told the Los Angeles Times: “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.’ ” In a state hurting from a decline in revenue from fossil fuels, is that how elected officials should help to spur economic growth and encourage the development of cleaner energy? 

The Bible records the observation that “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” In Wyoming, it appears that a few state lawmakers have decided that the sound of wind signals only an opportunity for generating new tax revenue.

Wyoming has already collected nearly $15 million in the four years since the Cowboy State first started taxing energy production from wind. Over its first 30 years, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind project is projected to generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue and royalties at the federal, state and local level. Fortunately, after nearly six hours of testimony from ranchers, local government officials, utilities, and industry representatives, the Joint Revenue Interim Committee voted to scuttle the proposal to raise Wyoming’s wind tax.  We can only hope that the idea is left off the table when the Legislature convenes next year.

It makes sense for the state and federal government to impose severance taxes when oil, gas, precious metals and other minerals are permanently taken from the land. But taxing energy production from renewables such as wind and solar as if they, too, were not renewable, makes no sense. Nor does it make sense to single out a specific form of energy production that has the capacity to meet consumer demand and help reduce carbon emissions. It’s almost as if wind power were a vice meriting the kind of “sin taxes” imposed on alcohol and cigarettes. 

It’s bad enough that Wyoming is the first and only state in the nation to impose a punitive tax on wind-energy production. This tax needs to be repealed, and at the very least, state lawmakers should resist any move to add more tax burdens to an industry that we all need to prosper. 

Ryan Call is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a Republican, an attorney in Denver, and central-region director with the R Street Institute, a conservative, free-market think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. 

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • PRICE REDUCED $94,300 - LOT SOUTH OF MONTROSE
    5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • CHARMING HOME/FARM NEAR CLIFF, NM
    3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NEW MEXICO WILDLIFE FEDERATION
    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE SPECIALIST I
    HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Customer Service Specialist I General Statement of Duties: Works closely with the customer service manager performing high-volume routine computer database work. Also...
  • FINANCE ASSOCITE
    We are hiring a Finance Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits, based in Bozeman,MT Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for details GYC is an equal opportunity employer
  • ARAVAIPA LAND STEWARD
    The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • VP OF DEVELOPMENT
    seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANT
    High Country News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • LAND ACQUISTIONS SPECIALIST - RENEWABLE ENERGY
    Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...