Carbon County, Wyoming could soon be home to the United States’ biggest wind farm, complete with 1,000 turbines. Conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz, who got his start in his father’s oil business, is behind the massive wind farm, which will be large enough to power every single home in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. But wind power in Wyoming could face an uphill battle as legislators angle to increase the tax on the renewable energy.
Wyoming is currently the only state in America to tax wind energy, but some lawmakers have attempted to raise that tax even higher – from $1 per megawatt hour to $3 or $5. So far, neither tax increase made it past committee – Anschutz’s business helped fight the hikes – but legislators are trying to fill out the state budget as the state lacks income tax and used to make money off coal, which is in its downward spiral.
In 2015, the state produced more coal than West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania combined, but coal consumption is declining. Meanwhile the state sees some of the continent’s strongest winds, which rival strong ocean gales. According to NexusMedia, wind power comprises a multi-billion opportunity for the state – Anschutz’s massive wind farm and a new 700-mile transmission line are priced at $8 billion, and there are two other $3 billion wind projects in the works.
Experts say it might be a bad idea to raise the tax right as the state is trying to drum up new jobs. Economist Robert Godby at the University of Wyoming told NexusMedia, “Wyoming is perceived by many wind developers to be kind of anti-wind. Suddenly the state is suggesting that we might raise the tax by four or five times? That’s not conducive to economic development. Tax uncertainty is almost as bad as having high taxes.”
Instead, Godby suggested a tax break for developers who will manufacture components and build wind farms in the state to attract projects, creating jobs and generating tax revenue. He described wind energy as “the biggest opportunity presenting itself to the state.”