CHEYENNE – Wyoming lawmakers on Thursday rejected two bills aimed at increasing revenue from the state’s energy industry. One of them would impose an excise tax on electricity generation in the state and another would increase the tax burden on the wind energy industry.
Joint Revenue Committee lawmakers heard hours of public testimony to the two bills, with the bulk of the comments being on laws to double the state tax on wind power generation from $ 1 per megawatt-hour to $ 2 and remove an existing tax exemption on new wind power projects in the first three years.
The proposal, which was expected to generate several million dollars for the state’s general fund if more wind projects are tackled in the years to come, met opposition from Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr and Laramie County Commissioner Gunnar Malm, who both argued that the bill would hinder ongoing and future projects. Orr noted that the latest Laramie County sales tax numbers exceeded expectations, largely due to the construction of the Roundhouse Energy project as an example of the benefits of local wind projects.
“(The project) totally saved the day in these COVID times,” Orr said. “We were forecasting a 25% drop in sales when we created our budget. We’re sitting (now) with a year-to-date increase of over 20%. In September alone, we were able to increase sales and tax revenue by 82% from September 2019. “
Orr noted that the City of Cheyenne recently signed a 30-year lease with NextEra Energy to manage the project at the Belvoir Ranch west of Cheyenne. Any change in the state’s tax policy, Orr said, would change the game for companies committed to working in the state.
“We’re going to change the parts of the game we’re playing – how fair is that? And what does that signal to other companies planning to get involved? “Orr asked the committee.
Several others, representing both wind energy companies and local governments, spoke out against the tax hike, which the Wyoming Business Alliance spoke out against. Tom Darin, director of western affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, told the committee that Wyoming already has a high tax rate on wind energy compared to other states in the region.
“Raising our taxes with these low regional prices where the market – not the legislature – picks winners and losers, could be a turning point for a successful project,” Darin said. “Most importantly, the income and jobs go to a neighboring state and not stay here in Wyoming. This is really a case where a higher tax rate might seem attractive at first, but please listen to me and the developers and others who will follow me today. “
Others argued the wind energy industry was vital to the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. Troy Udell, a Riverton resident who worked on the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind power project near Rawlins, said the effects of a tax hike would be severe for those who found work in wind farms.
“I’m rejecting both of these taxes simply because I’ve seen the positive impact of our project and surrounding projects on the communities and simply because I feel that in this case, I’ll be looking for work outside of the state,” Udell told the Committee.
While most of those who testified were against an increase in the tax on wind power generation, some were in favor of the proposal and, in general, against developing wind farms in the state. Albany County’s Jennifer Kirchhoefer worried about how the wind turbines could distort Wyoming’s pristine landscapes and potentially discourage tourism.
Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, who drafted the proposal, was skeptical of the idea that a tax hike would drive projects out of the state.
“I think the fact is we hear a lot crying from the companies that produce this energy,” Hallinan said.
However, Hallinan’s bill was rejected by committee members by 8-5 votes.
The other bill rejected by the committee would have introduced a new excise tax on all electricity generated in the state at $ 1 per megawatt hour produced, including corporate tax credits to offset some of the new tax burden.
While much of the discussion on Thursday centered on the tax hike on wind production, lawmakers also had little appetite for the electricity tax proposal, which would have put a 3.5% excise duty on revenue from every type of electricity produced in the state.
Committee co-chair Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, argued the proposal was necessary to ensure that every potential taxpayer contributes to Wyoming’s existing tax structure. However, he was one of only two lawmakers, along with Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who voted for the measure.
While both proposals were rejected by the committee on Thursday, part of Hallinan’s bill – the abolition of an existing tax exemption for new wind energy projects for the first three years – will continue to be considered joint corporations by lawmakers in Wyoming next year. The Committee on Elections and Political Subdivisions recently sponsored a bill to repeal the exemption.
The Joint Revenue Committee will meet again on Friday to discuss possible increases in state alcohol and tobacco taxes, among other things.