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Solar Energy

Technician Joshua Valdez, left, and plant manager Tim Wisdom walk past solar panels at a Pacific Gas and Electric solar plant on Aug. 17, 2017 in Vacaville, California. In Wyoming, House Bill 231 would remove a 25-kilowatt limit for the amount of power people can generate with renewable energy.

CHEYENNE – Every legislative session is filled with bills that few people notice, from measures to regulate cattle branding to bills regarding the retention of records from cameras on school buses.

One interesting measure to fly under the radar is House Bill 231, a piece of legislation that would remove a 25-kilowatt limit for the amount of power people can generate with renewable energy under a system called net metering, in which solar panels, wind generators or other facilities are connected to a public-utility power grid and the surplus power they generate is transferred onto the grid.

If the measure passes, it would be significant for consumers, allowing them to offset the costs on their energy bills by, essentially, forcing the utility companies to buy power from them. Though it breezed through the House of Representatives by a 33-26 vote, the bill has yet to receive a committee assignment in the Senate, and will not until amendments are made to the bill, said Senate President Drew Perkins, who explained that the legislation as currently written is essentially unfair to the state’s utilities.

“If you want to do wind energy or solar, that’s fine,” Perkins said Friday. “But you don’t have the right, in my eyes, to produce excess energy and make the utility buy it, which then spreads that higher cost of retail across all customers. The whole point of a utility is to have low-cost and efficiently-provided electrical power.”

According to Perkins, an effort was made to pass a similar bill several years ago, which he said would have meant 40 to 60 percent cost reductions for consumers. However, the utility would have been forced to buy back that power at the same rate it sold it at – essentially subsidizing solar power users through the other ratepayers on that system.

“The argument is it’s so small, it doesn’t hurt in Wyoming,” said Perkins. “Well, that’s now. You go to states where it is a problem now, where it hasn’t been capped, where it hasn’t been controlled. At the end of the day, you have to be very careful, because net metering provides a subsidy to a homeowner who has chosen to do renewable energy while forcing other ratepayers to bear that cost. You can build big enough to suit your needs, but to force a utility to buy it from you is not the right thing.”

Critics, however, have said HB231 would be tailored for small, consumer-grade rooftop systems, noting that other power plants around the state produce quantities of power tens of thousands of times larger than the 25-kilowatt cap – including a solar array on the state’s welcome center in the northeastern corner of the state.

Gordon vetoes first bill: Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed a bill that would have raised the per diem rates for Wyoming’s legislators, which haven’t been increased in years.

The reason? A number of amendments that were added to the bill late in the process setting different rates for lawmakers based on where they lived.

“House Bill 38 is, in my estimation, flawed,” he said in a statement. “It seeks to raise the per diem rate for legislative duty in general, and then reduces that compensation by half during a legislative session for those serving within a 25-mile radius of the Wyoming Capitol building. As such, the bill seems solely prejudiced against legislators living within a 25-mile radius of the State capitol. ”

The Week That Was

A Tale Of Two Records: Transparency watchdogs won a significant victory this week as the organization OpenTheBooks.com and the Equality State Taxpayer’s Association received a number of long-awaited records from the state auditors’ office, according to a letter from the Wyoming Attorney General’s office reviewed by the Star-Tribune, averting a lawsuit the group had threatened in a meeting of Gordon’s transparency task force several weeks ago.

The records request – which included six years of contract records with state vendors – had billowed into a public spat over transparency after former State Auditor Cynthia Cloud charged the groups $8,000 to receive those records. The group filed a lawsuit against her office in July and last month threatened to file another lawsuit unless the group’s records request was filed within 30 days.

Another prominent national group, however, had less luck with transparency. The journalism nonprofit Muckrock published an article Friday outlining its efforts to receive phone records from a number of correctional facilities around Wyoming, noting that two counties – Albany and Laramie counties – failed to produce records that the group managed to obtain from other jurisdictions.

Lynn Hutchings’ Viral Week: After this week, Sen. Lynn Hutchings, a Cheyenne Republican, might be the most famous member of the Wyoming Legislature.

Unfortunately, not for the best reasons.

During the weekend of Feb. 9, allegations that Hutchings made unsavory comparisons between homosexuality, bestiality and pedophilia in a conversation with high school students began to gain traction in the local press and, by the next day, had made their way into articles in national outlets like the New York Daily News, NBC and Think Progress.

That, it turns out, wasn’t the end of it.

In the debate leading up to the Senate largely voting down a bill that would have repealed Wyoming’s death penalty, Hutchings took to the microphone to argue that, without the death penalty, Jesus Christ would not have been able to die to absolve the sins of mankind and therefore capital punishment should be maintained. One day later, that comment ended up in stories published on news sites like Jezebel, Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post and The Hill.

The death penalty comment went considerably more viral. Why?

I have a theory: after hearing Hutchings’ comment over the intercom in the media room, I published a tweet describing what I heard, later transcribing audio of the direct quote. The tweet was then picked up by Barstool Sports personality PFTCommenter, who retweeted it to his more than half-million followers, which include numerous high-profile media personalities.

The original tweet I had written – which as of this writing had been retweeted just under 1,200 times – picked up traction from there, gaining retweets from media personalities like NBC’s Joy Reid, the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and Elizabeth Bruenig with the Washington Post.

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Is there a science behind why one thing goes viral and another doesn’t? I doubt it.

Eye On Washington

In Washington this week, many feathers were ruffled as a resolution called the Green New Deal – proposed by Democratic firebrand Alexandria Ocasio Cortez – began to garner significant support within the House of Representatives, rankling a number of prominent conservatives who took to the floor of Congress and to daytime television to chastise the idea.

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney argued that the resolution could mark the beginning of the end for air travel – a significant source of climate change-inducing emissions — though the resolution itself has no mention of airplanes at all. In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Sen. John Barrasso argued that the resolution would also seek to end cattle farming, leading to – among other things – an end to ice cream, cheeseburgers and ranchers.

Both representatives were likely referring to a passage from the deal’s frequently asked questions page on its website, which states: “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.”

Sen. John Barrasso co-sponsored a bill to “preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities.” He also gained attention for his efforts to spur quicker reform of the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to toxic chemicals in drinking water, saying the agency needs to be able to take “decisive action” when warranted.

Sen. Mike Enzi sponsored a bill to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require the federal government to make use of information provided by state, tribal and county governments in their decision making under the law – a bill seemingly inspired with Wyoming’s long-standing feud with the federal government over the state’s growing grizzly bear population.

Rep. Liz Cheney voted against a Democrat-backed resolution titled “Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress,” calling it “nothing more than a political stunt that puts our national security at risk” and “a blatant attempt to block America’s limited assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.”

She also mocked Democratic Presidential candidate Corey Booker, a prominent vegan, on Twitter over comments the New Jersey Senator made about factory farming, posting a picture of herself eating a steak with the caption: “I support PETA—People Eating Tasty Animals.”

Have any tips or suggestions to make this newsletter better? Let me know! Call me at 307-266-0634, email me at nick.reynolds@trib.com or follow me on Twitter, @IAmNickReynolds

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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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