CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming is back among the top 10 wind energy states after a surge over the last few years, but the trend may be ending, according to concerns raised by a state official and an industry representative Thursday.
By Ann Rascalli
The big obstacle for increased wind generation in the state is a lack of transmission capacity, said Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, which promotes power transmission development in the state. Proposed large wind projects won’t be built unless more transmission lines are constructed, according to Drain.
The lack of adequate transmission capacity is not just a Wyoming issue. Throughout the West, in particular, major renewable energy projects are being impacted by the problem, even delaying or curtailing some projects.
Another issue is Wyoming’s tax policies, according to Cheryl Riley, executive director of the Wyoming Power Producers Coalition. She said they dissuade independent developers from building new wind farm projects.
Currently, the state exempts wind generators and related equipment from the state sales tax but that exemption is set to expire after this year, and Wyoming will begin imposing a $1 per megawatt hour generation tax in 2012.
“Wyoming was attractive to developers, but losing that sales tax exemption and adding that generation tax on top of it has slowed down developers looking at the state,” Riley said.
The Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee is studying the state’s wind tax policy this summer.
BY THE NUMBERS
According to data from the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, last year Wyoming produced 1,412 megawatts of electricity from wind, giving it the number nine position in the top ten wind energy states. The year before, the state ranked 11th with 1,099 megawatts, and 13thin 2009 with 676 megawatts.
Looking at the big picture mid-year, Wyoming seems headed for another construction lull in wind energy development, and it could last a few years. Todd Parfitt, administrator of the state Industrial Siting Division, pointed out that there have not been any new wind farm construction permits issued this year, save for one that is near approval. He also lamented the inadequate transmission grid.
According to the Industrial Siting Division, seven transmission projects are in the early stages of planning, but none would be ready to begin operation until 2015.