Many in the nation’s wind industry survived a major scare with the recent one-year extension of the federal Wind Production Tax Credit. However, a Wyoming wind energy lobbyist and representatives of wind energy companies active in the state say extending the measure will do little to jump-start the industry here.
“The extension of the (tax credit) will have little, if any, effect on new development in Wyoming,” Dave Picard, a lobbyist with the Power Producers Coalition of Wyoming, wrote in an email. “The extension will certainly encourage companies to invest in new projects — but not here in Wyoming.”
Congress’ inclusion of the tax credit — a long-standing measure that provides 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to producers — in the “fiscal cliff” legislation includes a major language change that applies the credit toward all wind projects starting construction in 2013 rather than just those in service.
Craig Cox, a consultant dealing in “clean energy” and transmission and former director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a New Mexico-based renewable energy trade association, said last week that the extension means a lot to Western projects.
“It allows the construction start date to count instead of in-service date,” he said. “That allows projects to be built at a more normal pace.”
The renewed credit likely won’t reach into Wyoming. Wyoming’s infrastructure isn’t ready to accommodate additional projects in 2013, and even companies that feel ready to build encounter other factors.
“For any new wind development to occur is going to require new transmission,” Loyd Drain, director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said in an interview last week. “We don’t see any new transmission getting completed in 2013. But that doesn’t mean construction couldn’t commence.”
Most projects that could be accommodated by the existing grid likely aren’t ready to go. Picard said only Wasatch Wind’s Pioneer project near Glenrock is fully permitted. But that doesn’t mean companies won’t take a shot at starting construction this year.
“Certainly companies would want to move up their construction time frame to meet the requirements of the law,” he said.
The Wasatch project, although recently cleared of a legal challenge by the Wyoming Supreme Court, has come across another obstacle — its funding partner filed for bankruptcy — large enough to call into question the development’s certainty.
Wasatch didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Nate Sandvig, a site developer for EDF Renewable Energy, said his company looks at Wyoming as a long-term opportunity. Until transmission is built and the industry is steadily incentivized, he said few new wind projects will call the state home.
“We would love to pull up a project in Wyoming,” he said. “It’s just not for the faint of heart or light of wallet.”
EDF has only one planned project in Wyoming — the Quaking Aspens farm near Rock Springs. Two other projects — White Mountain and Miller Mountain — fell through because of other considerations, such as the state’s sage grouse core area policy and viewshed concerns. White Mountain was a 60-turbine project; Miller Mountain included 200 turbines.
Josh Jamison, a wind development manager for Pathfinder Renewable Energy, a company planning two Wyoming wind projects, said this week that the new deal also doesn’t mean much to his company.
“The next five to seven years is where we’re looking [to build],” he said, adding that the credit’s extension “has little or no effect.”
Other representatives of planned projects offered little input last week about whether the extension would mean anything to their developments. Kara Choquette, a spokeswoman for Power Company of Wyoming, wrote in an email that the company doesn’t know how the extension will impact development on the huge, 1,000-turbine Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind project near Rawlins, another Wyoming wind project nearing full permitting.
“It’s too early to tell,” she said. “The term ‘under construction’ as used in the legislation has not yet been defined.”
Choquette added that the company hopes to begin construction this year but is focused on permitting the project.
A spokeswoman for Shell Wind Energy, which has proposed at least two wind projects in Albany County, declined comment because of a temporary company policy forbidding commenting to the media. Representatives of Third Planet Windpower, which has proposed a project near Wright, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Cox said the industry would benefit from both an earlier and longer-term extension of the credit. He said because the extension wasn’t granted until one of the first days in January, many producers didn’t enter orders with manufacturers. More lead time may have let those manufacturers produce parts needed for 2013.
“[The credit] should have been extended spring of last year,” Cox said.
Whether or not the credit is extended again, Wyoming will remain windy. That, at least to some, makes Wyoming a target for the industry.
Jamison said Pathfinder plans to pursue its Wyoming wind energy projects — one planned near Rawlins, another near Chugwater — with or without the tax credit, although working with the credit would be advantageous.
“I’m not saying we wouldn’t welcome it,” he said.
“We’re competitive without it. But our projects won’t live or die without the credit being extended beyond 2013.”