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Report projects a wind energy windfall for Wyoming, though permitting challenges loom

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News brief:

A new paper out of the University of Wyoming projects the economic potential of wind power in the state, highlighting the huge opportunities and challenges unique to Western states amid the growing demand for renewable energy.

Authored by Dr. Christelle Khalaf, a faculty fellow at the school's Center for Business and Economic Analysis, the analysis finds that wind power in Wyoming could create more than 3,500 construction jobs (500 permanent) and $30 million in annual tax revenue from wind power over the decades-long lifetimes of the development projects.

We're talking about jobs and the associated wages, we're talking about this creation of value, which goes into GDP, and then we're talking more importantly about fiscal revenue,” Khalaf said.

She also calculated an “aggressive” scenario in which permitting, siting and building ramps up more quickly, and that projects about 6,500 construction jobs (1,500 permanent) and $90 million in annual tax revenues.

While the Cowboy State about doubled its wind capacity from 2019 to 2021 and has many projects in the queue, it currently ranks just 14th nationally in installed projects. Wyoming has only 7 percent less wind potential than Kansas but has installed 160 percent less capacity, according to Khalaf's report.

New Mexico and Colorado rank a bit higher than Wyoming and are also seeing growth in installed capacity, but they’re still way behind the top states, led by Texas.

Currently, several massive projects are being proposed in Wyoming, and if they come through in the next few years, that could match that “aggressive” scenario and make the state one of the top wind producers in the nation. Khalaf said local turbine manufacturing could also bring more work and economic activity to the Mountain West. But she said it's hard to predict the potential in manufacturing beyond the next five years.

Khalaf said that while renewables can help Mountain West states diversify their energy economies, one thing holding the region back compared to the rest of the country is the permitting process for projects on public lands.

“On private land, you can have sort of a permitting process that goes smoothly and you're ready to start construction within two years, versus on federal land, it's on average taking sort of double that – four years and sometimes even more,” she said.

Khalaf said federal partners need to work in the region to promote and streamline wind development in areas with lots of public parcels. To that end, the Interior Department recently created “Renewable Energy Coordination Offices” that aim to support renewable energy permitting and growth.

She also suggests local revenue-sharing options and job creation programs in communities where wind development is happening. That could go a long way, she said, towards gaining local support for large projects.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Will Walkey is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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