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Wind Advocates Come Out Strong Against Proposed Electricity Tax

Forecasted revenue from different versions of the bill
Legislative Service Office

Wyoming's Joint Revenue Committee let a bill die without a vote that would have levied a tax on electricity generation whether it's coming from coal, hydroelectric, or wind. Members of the committee considered the Electrical Generation Tax as a way to generate additional funds for the state which is looking at a major budget deficit. This bill could have raised funds ranging from $3 million to $190 million per year.

18 out of 20 speakers testified against the bill. Most cited concerns for the wind industry. Advocates argued they already pay three separate taxes in sales, property and generation which is more than any other state. Some clarified that Wyoming does have a great wind resource, but the competition is getting so steep and technology so advanced that companies are willing to go elsewhere.

Spencer Haynes with Duke Energy said the legislative climate has pushed the company out of Wyoming.

"Since the generation tax was levied in 2010, we have unfortunately had to turn our efforts elsewhere. We've made investments totaling $3 billion in other states. I would implore you to consider the long-term opportunity for the state as you seek to capture great benefits of wind energy," he said.

Owner and operator of King Ranch Mark Eisley also argued against the bill saying wind has helped the ranching community - especially as the ranching population is aging.

"People were excited to have wind farms on their farms and ranches. They wanted to retire, bring the kids back, buy the property next door," he said.

After another company spoke out against the bill, chairman Dan Zwonitzer clarified, "we're not anti-wind, just trying to figure out a half a billion-dollar deficit. Just looking for a way forward."

Jon Cox, VP of Government Affairs for Rocky Mountain Power, added the bill wouldn't just hurt wind, but coal-fired power plants which are already struggling.

With testimony lasting well over two hours, the discussion turned to Wyoming's ability to diversify and whether it should focus on taxing the industries it already has. One Wyoming resident said, "I get so sick of diversifying as long as its oil and gas, or coal."

The bill died with no vote. Sheridan Representative Cyrus Western said that says it all.

"I think Wyoming wind has a lot to offer to the state, to the region, to the country in terms of providing clean energy, renewable energy, but also to help ensuring that we have good jobs here in Wyoming. I think this bill would have been one more obstacle to making that happen," he said.

Committee Chairman Cale Case said the bill has merit and expects it to come up again down the line.

"It's a significant way to raise a lot of money without very much impact on Wyoming homeowners and citizens. So, I think we keep looking at it," he said.

The bill centered around the fact that Wyoming ships the vast majority of its generated electricity out of state. And what does stay here is primarily used by industrial customers.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

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