The Casper Area Economic Development Alliance announced Monday it will pursue manufacturers of turbines, electronics and related parts in the wind generation industry in an attempt to draw new employers to the region.
CAEDA board members met with a handful of state lawmakers last week to discuss their new focus on the wind energy industry, said Charles Walsh, CAEDA’s new president and CEO.
The organization is tasked with creating new jobs and diversifying central Wyoming’s economy – which is especially important at this time when the fossil fuels industry is down and many local workers are unemployed or underemployed. The organization is regrouping and focusing on a number of industries to achieve these goals, Walsh said.
Board members also talked to Natrona County legislators about state statutes and policies that could derail any effort to persuade wind industry companies to move to Casper – including a $1-per-megawatt-hour production tax levied by the state.
The tax is contentious in Wyoming and the subject of much debate in the Wyoming Legislature.
Lawmakers who support the tax – some even want to see it increased — believe it’s a way to create tax parity with the fossil fuels industry. They note the wind industry obtains federal tax benefits that are unavailable to fossil fuels, which they believe are losing out in the energy market and producing less revenue for the state.
But Wyoming is the only state with a production tax. Heavy hitters in the wind industry, such as Power Company of Wyoming, have said it makes them take pause when considering beginning operations in blustery Wyoming. Such words worry other lawmakers, who would like to remove the production tax to diversify the economy.
Sen. Bill Landen, a Casper Republican who attended last week’s meeting, said CAEDA board members mentioned that Kansas, Iowa and Colorado are doing a better job attracting the wind industry.
“While (the tax) isn’t a great deal of money, it still sends a message to the wind industry that maybe Wyoming is not as welcoming to that particular industry,” he said. “I think there’s concern at the state level in that regard… But I’ve had constituents express concerns on that front, about the competitive nature of our minerals industry.”
Landen said CAEDA board members didn’t ask lawmakers to draft any bills about the tax or any other economic development issue.
“I think they were interested in us knowing they’re trying to take a new direction under new leadership,” he said.
Walsh noted that Salt Lake City-based Rocky Mountain Power intends to spend nearly $3 billion in the state in coming years.
Rob Godby, a University of Wyoming energy economist, said in addition to Rocky Mountain Power’s planned investment in wind, there are projects slated in the region that could be a boon to the local economy – if companies choose to set up operations in the Oil City as oil companies have done in the past.
Projects include the 1,000-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which will be the world’s second-largest wind farm if it is completed, and a venture north of Medicine Bow by the Venezuelan firm of Viridis Eolia.
“Wyoming has some tax structures that may be detrimental to wind development,” Godby said. “And the perception to people outside the state is Wyoming is anti-wind. Imagine you’re a company and you’re looking at billions or hundreds of millions in development in the state of Wyoming. You take it to your board, and they’ll say, ‘Wyoming hates wind.’”