Land procurement and development for wind farms is no walk-in-the-park. Obstacles, such as zoning and lack of transmission right-of-ways, are hampering current projects, but even more troubling are new obstacles state legislatures and city councils are implementing, such as those recently voted into Wyoming’s laws.
In that state, ranchers have a significant influence on local and state politics due to their immense land tracts. What’s more, the oil and gas industries have been the state’s primary economic source for many years. Put these two together and you find a crippled wind industry throughout the state. Though Wyoming could boast being the seventh richest in wind resources in the United States, it is only the country’s twelfth wind power producing state.
Earlier this year, the Wyoming Senate voted to impose the nation’s first excise tax on the production of wind energy. The bill will impose a one dollar per megawatt hour tax on all electricity produced by wind. Of course one dollar is not an extreme amount when one considers the greater picture, but weigh that against the tax credits and incentives other states are implementing in hopes of luring green industry to their states, and you’d think the state was trying to stifle the growth of wind energy.
Another major obstacle for the production of wind energy in Wyoming is that of power transmission. There are currently six high voltage transmission-line projects in the planning or permitting stage, but none in the building stage. This is an enormous problem for wind developers. Although they are often able to produce electricity, they are unable to distribute it to high-demand markets such as California. Again, the issue falls back to the influence ranchers and land owners have in the state. Many land owners are unwilling to offer their land for a high-voltage line, and without a straight shot out of Wyoming, power line projects cannot stay within budget.
A third issue facing development in the state is one frequently found elsewhere, wildlife and ecosystem preservation. In May 2008, the Wyoming governor’s office issued an executive order stating they would no longer issue permits for projects within a “core area”. This area covers 23% of Wyoming’s breeding grounds, migration routes, and wintering areas for the Sage Grouse, a species nearing the endangered species list. The order halted wind development of all kinds in some of Wyoming’s richest wind resource areas. In response, the Wyoming Power Producers Coalition (WPPC) has begun lobbying efforts to educate the legislature and congress in attempt to relax the state’s anti-wind policies.
Of course, what Wyoming and its’ people wish to do with their state is their prerogative. Perhaps this is an opportunity for project developers to find innovative solutions. For those heavily invested in the area, discounted power rates to ranchers who offer their land might be a solution. Or possibly find a system that will permanently employ some of Wyoming’s citizens. These would be preferable to bursting on and off the scene with millions in venture capital, leaving only eye sores and partitioned land. WPE
Holly Wold of Whirlwind LLC in Denver, Colo. also contributed to this article.
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