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Increased Wind Tax Makes Its Way Back Into Discussion

Location for Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind project. Several in public comment spoke from the county, along with a project official
Power Company of Wyoming

The state legislature's Joint Revenue Committee set aside time during a recent meeting to learn how the wind industry is currently being taxed in the state; no bill on the subject was under discussion.

"It just turns out to be a lot more complicated than I thought it was. Folks have been looking into this," said Revenue Co-Chairman and Lander Sen. Cale Case in reference to taxation on wind.

The conversation spanned from how taxes would work if turbine blades are replaced to how the state's rate stacks up against others.

"Property taxes are fourth from the lowest as it relates to wind farms. It could probably be applied to virtually everything we tax with the exception of minerals," said Dan Noble, director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue.

Public testimony quickly took issue with the returning possibility of seeing an increase to the wind generation tax. It currently sits at $1 per megawatt (MW) hour.

Kara Choquette, communications director for two renewable energy development companies, pointed out that while property taxes may be low, it comes in conjunction with several other tax categories. All combined, a 2019 University of Wyoming report shows an incoming wind facility can expect to pay nearly double the amount in taxes than it would building in Colorado.

Amy Bach, city attorney in Rawlins, near where the 3000 MW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project is set, wanted to go on record to oppose any changes to taxation in wind.

Case intervened saying, "Ms. Bach, you do know that we're not considering a tax, right?"

After hearing from further testimony, Case repeated himself saying existing taxes are all that's in discussion.

Terry Weickum, a former Carbon County commissioner, said the topic has come up countless times, though, over the past decade.

"The very fact we're discussing wind taxation again makes me and everybody involved with wind taxation kind of nervous," he said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about it and I hope that you can decide what you're going to do."

After hearing from a rancher opposed to a tax change, Case addressed the possibility of getting more revenue out of the wind industry.

"I'm just wondering if Wyoming seems to be a little bit more lucrative on the private land than other states and really doing very well, maybe there's money to be made even for the state of Wyoming in terms of our worst financial crisis ever," he said.

In August, Gillette Rep. Tim Hallinan told the revenue committee he had a bill draft underway to raise the generation tax, which hasn't yet been shared publicly. Hallinan said he thought a bill draft would be available by this meeting, but still spoke to the concept.

"I wonder why people here are so convinced that raising this tax by one dollar will cause us to lose all these businesses to our state. I don't think it's very likely and I wonder why so many of you people think that it is," he said.

The Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee voted earlier this month to sponsor and move forward with a bill that would remove the three-year tax exemption given to wind companies before the generation tax set in.

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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