By Cheryl Riley, Executive Director, Wyoming Power Producers Coalition
The 61st Wyoming Legislature will have some critical decisions to make in the upcoming legislative session regarding the future of Wyoming’s economy. The actions of this legislative body may very well determine whether Wyoming citizens will benefit from the tremendous economic value that could come to our state from having a vibrant wind energy industry.
The current tax structure and level of taxation on wind energy in Wyoming makes it very difficult for Wyoming wind power projects to compete with wind power projects in Colorado, New Mexico, Montana or other states in the Rocky Mountain region. This does not include the necessary cost of delivering Wyoming wind electricity via export transmission lines to the customers who will buy it. As with beef, lamb, coal and other Wyoming resources, our state can produce more wind electricity than our small population can use in-state, so it makes business sense to sell Wyoming wind energy to other places, generating jobs and revenues back home.
Some argue that Wyoming’s wind resources are so superior to other states that wind companies will develop here regardless of the state’s tax policy. However, this is not the case for businesses looking to invest and create jobs in the West. As Wyoming residents, we all know what a force of nature our wind can be, but while Wyoming may have a larger area of higher class winds, other states have enough sufficiently economically developable wind resources that will keep wind companies busy for decades. Furthermore, advances in the technology of wind turbines will allow the lower class wind resources to be developed on a commercial level, making it even more imperative that Wyoming create a more favorable and competitive climate for development in our state.
Who loses if Wyoming’s wind resources do not get developed? As a native of Wyoming, I say we all do. Wyoming is built on a strong and proud tradition of providing energy resources to the nation. Wind energy can and should be a component of Wyoming’s export portfolio. Wind companies want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our state, provide substantial royalty payments to Wyoming landowners, bring hundreds of good paying jobs, provide the backbone for supporting manufacturing facilities, and bring significant tax revenues to our counties and cities. These companies also understand that they need to pay their way as all other energy resources currently do. But if we keep the current tax structure in place, we could very well tax these companies out of the state.
The Legislature has a great opportunity in 2011 to make a statement about the importance of wind energy development and the associated benefits for Wyoming's future. Encouraging business investment into our state’s economy today will only deliver more economic success for us all tomorrow.
Cheryl Riley, a Wyoming native and University of Wyoming graduate, lives in Cheyenne. She can be contacted at email@example.com.