Wind task force wraps up research, reports
Casper – When the Legislative Task Force On Wind Energy met for the last time Oct. 12 the discussion focused heavily on taxation, county regulations and industrial siting.
Despite the research, reports and discussion, the task force closed the meeting without solid recommendations on several complex topics.
“If we can craft tax policy as well as we can going in the door, I’m comfortable seeing where it shakes out,” said Sen. John Schiffer (R-Kaycee), who chairs the Senate Revenue Committee and gave a report on taxation options. “The advice that I’ve gotten is to make a general tax on all electrical generation, and if you want specific policies to put them in the bill.”
“This is all an outcomes thing,” commented Task Force Chairman Senator Jim Anderson (R-Glenrock). “If we do this, what will happen? We need to maintain competitiveness and sustainability.”
Ultimately the task force didn’t endorse a position on taxation of wind energy generation.
Regarding county regulations, Representative Tim Stubson (R-Casper) said there are three primary problems with the regulatory environment in Wyoming, on both the state and local level. He listed them as counties with no regulatory structure at all, inconsistencies between county rules and regulations and what’s taking place with the Industrial Siting Council (ISC) and the redundancy of permits going through both state and county regulations for permitting.
Stubson said he’s concentrated his attention on those counties lacking regulatory structure. “My approach is a minimum standard applied to every single wind development of a commercial scope in Wyoming. It would apply to counties that do and don’t have regulations, within and without of the ISC.”
He was careful to clarify that new legislation would honor existing county permitting processes. “There’s been significant process and public input and support in those counties that have adopted wind rules and regulations, and what I’m presenting would not interfere. It would only set a minimum.”
The task force did pass a joint resolution in support of Governor Freudenthal’s sage grouse core area concept.
“If we in the state of Wyoming, not only wind industry, but also in the executive and legislative branches, could present a concerted, united effort communicating that we recognize the bird and its challenges and that we’re working to avoid listing, perhaps this would be helpful,” said Anderson.
The joint resolution was drafted with assistance from Governor Freudenthal’s office and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Anderson said the goal was to present a front to the U.S. government stating that sage grouse management is something Wyoming would like to do on its own.
Although the task force passed the joint resolution, member Bill Miller, representing the energy industry, took exception with the “broad consensus” for the core area concept.
“There’s a significant number of landowners that didn’t have any knowledge of the concept, and the wind industry did not have the opportunity to be at the table,” said Miller. “There’s a broad consensus we need a strategy to deal with sage grouse, but I don’t think there’s a broad consensus on the way private landowners and various industries were affected.”
He said there’s a slight dissenting opinion on the core area strategy, and Anderson agreed to wordsmithing the joint resolution in regard to the statement.
When the task force moved to discussion on wind rights, Representative Jeb Steward (R-Encampment) said he had tried to find middle ground in his research since the group last met.
“At this point, it’s been revealed to me that perhaps the middle ground does not exist,” said Steward. “It’s difficult to make any statements today on whether wind rights are severable or not.”
“The transient nature of this resource does beg the question of whether or not anybody can own it,” he continued. “On a fundamental level I think common sense would reveal that wind is not something that’s severable.”
If the rights were severable, said Steward, they could perhaps stand on their own and be exposed to some assignment of fair market value where the recognizable property right could be taxed.
Steward said in his research he looked for a starting point to flush out opinions on the matter, but as of yet he hasn’t been able to. “We’ve heard many times today how the industry still is not mature and discussions on wind rights are not mature, either. It’s difficult to engage people on different levels and meaningful discussions to gather input on wind ownership.”
“Clearly, in order for us to make any policy decisions on complex subject, it’s absolutely necessary to continue this investigation of wind rights and the unintended consequences of making any statement of ownership and the severability of that ownership,” he continued.
Ed Werner of the Converse County Commissioners agreed, saying he sees severability as a nightmare 20 years down the road. “When you break these things apart, you’re asking for issues.”
“It’s going to cost a lot of people a lot of money to solve what we could probably solve easily and quickly right now,” said Werner of severing wind rights. “Can you? Yes. Should you? No. If we do we’re asking for one more set of headaches coming down the road.”
Concluding the meeting, Senator Anderson asked the task force for their thoughts. Representative Rodney Anderson (R-Pine Bluffs) responded he thinks the number one issue is transmission, “or it’s all down the drain.”
He said the second thing is to get siting plans and issues settled so everybody knows what’s involved. “The third thing is get things straight on taxation or non-taxation.”
“We’re going to remain the energy capitol of the U.S., and wind will be part of it,” said Representative Anderson.
Senator Perkins (R-Cas-per) said wind energy is an important sector of Wyoming’s energy portfolio and holds significant promise for the state and its people. “When you look at the entire energy portfolio, wind certainly has a place. It’s not a question of coal or wind, or gas or wind. The world’s energy demands will require all we can get.”
Following their final meeting the Wind Energy Task Force will compile a final report, giving the spirit and climate of their discussion for the rest of the legislators to review, said Anderson. The report will be submitted Oct. 21 and will be open for public review from Oct. 22 to 28. The final report is scheduled for acceptance Oct. 30.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.