CHEYENNE -- Wyoming will have more authority over the siting and development of wind farms and the state will begin taxing wind energy production under bills that Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed into law on Friday.
The $1 per megawatt hour tax on wind energy generated in the state goes into effect in 2012. The wind industry fought the tax bill unsuccessfully this session. Industry lobbyists had urged lawmakers to study the issue more and warned that higher taxes would discourage development.
The governor also signed a bill to extend the state's permitting authority over wind farms and their related collector transmission lines. The third bill he signed sets a moratorium on the use of eminent domain powers to take private land for collector lines until June 30, 2011.
A fourth bill was still pending on Friday that would set minimum county standards and restrictions for wind developments.
In his farewell address to the House and Senate, Freudenthal thanked lawmakers for passing the wind industry bills. He had urged them before the session started to address the issue.
Freudenthal said passing the wind bills sends the message that while Wyoming welcomes the wind industry, it will only do so on terms that are good for its quality of life and economic development -- and only if the industry pays its own way.
"I believe that (a tax) should be applied, so all the economic activities in this state are on an equal footing," Freudenthal said.
Sen. Majority Floor Leader Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, was chairman of a legislative task force that has been studying wind energy issues and recommending how to regulate the industry since May.
The Legislature has agreed to extend the task force for at least another year. Anderson said he expects the group will address wind taxation issues, the use of eminent domain to take private property for wind power lines and wind property rights.
"I hope that those things will bring the certainty that both industry and the state needs in regard to bringing, I think, this viable and important industry forward," Anderson said.
The Legislature's Management Council also assigned the joint Judiciary and Revenue interim committees to study wind issues.
Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, sponsored the bill to impose a moratorium on the use of eminent domain in creating new wind power lines.
"It simply says, 'let's take a time out,' and let's see if we can reduce the chaos to some orderly procedure with respect to eminent domain as it applies to collector lines," Brown said at Friday's bill-signing ceremony.
Cheryl Riley, executive director of the Wyoming Power Producers Coalition, said her group looks forward to working with the governor's office and the legislature over the interim to hash out issues related to wind development.
Riley said her organization supported the bills on the state's permitting authority and industrial siting standards because they would create regulatory certainty.
Riley said her group opposed the tax bill, but regards what the Legislature passed as essentially a "placeholder" for the state while it works out details of how it intends to tax the industry in the future.
"We felt like we should do the study before we do the bill, and that was the sentiment of a couple of legislators," Riley said.
Riley said she's concerned that passing the tax bill may send a negative message as the wind industry considers whether to locate projects in Wyoming or in other states.