CASPER — Wyoming wind is relentless, and anyone who lives in the state knows that the perpetual irritant that makes sagebrush shiver and wind socks live horizontally is also something that can be harnessed for power.
But the widespread belief that the wind here makes Wyoming the most economic place for a company to raise a turbine is not quite correct.
The four best wind states — in terms of the value of the wind and the cost of developing it — are New Mexico, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming, in that order.
Wyoming ranks fourth, but the three states that follow New Mexico are actually quite close, noted Rob Godby, the coauthor of a recent study that investigates how tax policy influences the economics of Western wind development. Godby is also the executive director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.
The talk of cost is timely, as this year lawmakers again proposed increasing the state’s wind tax. Though that attempt has repeatedly failed, its persistence has rattled wind supporters and developers.
Tax proponents maintain the wind is so good in Wyoming, and development of wind is so cheap, that the increase is a fair deal. The UW study’s authors argue that increasing the existing wind tax may be a bad deal for economic diversification, scaring off development.
But they also offer a compromise.
The study considers Wyoming’s wind competitiveness beside its peers — the other states in the Western grid. That includes the really expensive places to develop wind, like California, and the really cheap spots, like New Mexico. The ranking worked like this. Researchers considered the best of the best in terms of wind sites in these states. For the best locations — the top 5 percent of developable land — researchers considered the cost of development over the lifetime of a hypothetical wind farm. That includes costs like a state’s tax policy, construction and logistics. That adds up to the cheapest or most economic wind development. On the other end of the spectrum are the least favorable conditions.
That’s wind producing at the bare minimum acceptable for developers, which researchers set as a 35 percent gross capacity factor.
The UW cost comparison is not the first performed for the state. The Legislature commissioned a study by a private company in 2010. Godby said he and his partner had originally tried to simply replicate that model, but found it clunky for their purposes. However, the results from the early replication of the 2010 study compared to the final remodeling both put Wyoming in fourth place, he said. There’s a group of lawmakers that talk pretty regularly about raising Wyoming’s wind tax. They note the long-term impact of wind farms on Wyoming’s landscape, clean-up of steel towers down the line or point out that traditional energy industries contribute more, in revenue and in jobs, than the wind industry.
The desire to force wind to pay a “fair share” has led to annual bills in the Wyoming Legislature to increase the wind tax. This year, multiple measure raising the tax came into play, though none survived the session.
By Heather Richards
Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange