Our incredible Wyoming wind: should it be taxed even more?

A recent forecast predicted 80 mph winds on Interstate 80 in southeast Wyoming.

To folks in most places, this would be seen as dire news. In Wyoming it barely got a ho-hum.  If you live here, you better love the wind, or at least get used to it.

As the windiest state in America, Wyoming is now seeing a boom of new construction of giant wind turbines. Seen as a renewable energy source, politicians in western states like Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington are passing laws requiring folks in their states to shift from energy generated from  “dirty” sources like coal to “clean” sources like wind.

And the best wind in America is here in Wyoming. Our average wind speed of 12.9 mph tops the country. Among the reasons our wind works so well for those west coast states is because it often blows very hard in the afternoon. In most hot states like Arizona and Texas, the afternoon winds calm down, when the power is needed the most.

Thousands of big windmill turbines are on the drawing boards in Carbon, Albany, Natrona, Converse, Platte, Laramie, and other Wyoming counties. The promoters of the projects are spending big bucks in Cheyenne to convince the Legislature not to put higher taxes on their production. Wyoming has been successful in taxing non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and natural gas. Severance taxes are charged on these products because they are “severed” from Wyoming and gone forever.

An opposite example is a renewable resource like a forest or a cornfield.

Proponents argue against increased taxes because wind is renewable. It has always been here. It’s here now. It will always be here!

Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) is the biggest proponent of an increased wind tax. He says these gigantic windmills are ruining the “viewshed” all over the state.  “These wonderful views are gone for 200 years once you put windmills all over them,” he says.    

He also likes to bring up the fact that these folks out west are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their wind power so why would we not tax them a fair rate?

Promoters plus folks who live in Wyoming’s windy places already feel that wind energy is taxed enough. They worry talking about increased taxes will cut back or eliminate the projects.

Sen. Case quotes Windpower Magazine, which predicted Wyoming is one of seven states that will double its wind capacity during 2019.  Wyoming and the less windy part of New Mexico are in the western power grid, so they would be the only states with the ability to send power out west. “Clearly for the wind developers, Wyoming is the best choice,” the article states. Another consideration is New Mexico has a 7.6 percent corporate income tax when Wyoming has none.

It seems like Don Quixote’s worst nightmare is occurring here. The Man of La Mancha went crazy jousting against huge windmills in Spain that looked like giants. In real life, giants are marching across our landscape here, and yes, they really are windmills.

Energy experts looked at three ways to provide renewable energy to Southern California, Nevada and Arizona: concentrated solar power, wind turbines there, and wind turbines one thousand miles away in Wyoming.

To no one’s surprise who has driven I-80 in the winter, our wind is strong and consistent. You could build turbines here and transport the power 1,000 miles and it still would be cheaper than wind energy generated there.

This is amazing good fortune for our fledgling wind industry. As the country blows away from coal to wind, I am reminded of a story told at least five years ago by a lobbyist for the coal mines.

He claimed it would take 20,000 wind turbines to replace one Jim Bridger plant. That coal-fired power plant located east of Rock Springs has capacity of 2,120 megawatts.

Well, not so fast. That lobbyist was talking about those original one-tenth megawatt wind turbines, which were small fry compared to the giants marching across the plains today. Newer wind turbines can produce four megawatts, a gigantic improvement. 

Not counting wind, Wyoming produces about 6,000 megawatts of power, of which half is exported to other states. Half the 3,000 megawatts used here is for residential use and the rest for industrial.   

The wind is here. The big turbines are coming.  Legislators are trying to decide how or if to increase taxes on wind production. If you have an opinion, let your legislator know.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.