The legislature's Joint Revenue Committee once again considered and voted against a bill that would have raised the generation tax on wind. This time from $1 per megawatt hour to $2 per megawatt hour. The bill would have also removed a three-year tax exemption enjoyed by wind energy producers.
The Legislative Service Office alongside the Wyoming Department of Revenue prepared estimates of how that might change the state's revenue picture. With both the changes, Wyoming's general fund and local governments could collectively see a roughly $27 million boost by 2029 based on current and future wind capacity from permitted wind projects.
Gillette Representative Tim Hallinan sponsored the bill with longtime wind tax supporter Cale Case also pushing for it in committee. Hallinan argued the tax is minimal and would provide substantial revenue to the state. He also felt it important as a statement.
"Wyoming is not a colony of California. There is no reason why we should give them the possibility of avoiding all of the downsides that these windmills produce in our state," he said, given much of the wind energy produced in-state is shipped elsewhere.
Testimony lasted several hours longer than expected with the lion's share in opposition of a tax change. Local government, ranchers, residents, and renewable companies also raised similar points that have come up in past years: wind has been a bright revenue spot for a state used to a boom-bust cycle.
Cheyenne Mayor Marianne Orr said wind energy played a particularly significant financial role this year.
"It totally saved the day in these COVID times," she said. "We projected a 25 percent revenue decrease when we did our budget. We are sitting on our over 20 percent increase year-to-date. In September alone, we had an 82 percent increase in sales and use tax revenue. From September of 2019."
Ranching advocacy groups and individual ranchers also spoke up in support of wind. Karen Wolstenholm said, as a part of the Cedar Springs Wind Project, she feels a sense of financial security for the next generation. Wolstenholm is worried about a change to the tax structure.
"If it costs more to do it in Wyoming, then they simply won't be investing here in Wyoming," she said.
But more than that, the frequent threat of a change in tax structure is frustrating enough for some testifying.
"Just continuing the effort to levy multiple taxes on a single business sends a message to financial markets that Wyoming changes business terms yearly and is not a place to invest millions of markets," said Stephanie Williams, with Innergex Renewables owner of the Boswell Springs wind project located in Albany County, a permitted but yet to be build project.
Several opponents of wind came out as well including private residents from Albany County. One businessman from Lander, Joe Quiroz, supported the bill. He echoed concerns that wind energy doesn't create enough jobs, is burdensome to look at, and isn't offering enough revenue to the state as is.
"There's a fear that by imposing realistic taxes on renewable energy producers will go elsewhere. But that argument supposes that citizens in other states will not value their contributions to production as lovingly as we do in Wyoming," said Quiroz.
Following testimony, Representative Hallinan made a final argument in favor of the committee sponsoring the bill during the 2021 session. He said the arguments he's hearing sound similar to ones he's heard in the past.
"The fact is that we hear a lot of crying from the companies that produce this energy, and they do so just as one of our testimonials gave talking about the oil companies and the coal companies when they came. They couldn't pay. But they have, and they have prospered," he said.
Nevertheless, the joint revenue committee voted against pursuing the bill.