Wind task force discusses prioritiesWritten by Christy Hemken
At their late-August meeting in Casper Task Force Chairman Senator Jim Anderson led the group in setting priorities for reports and bills to compose for their next gathering.
“Wind is a new card, and a wild card and we don’t know what value to put on it yet,” said Anderson. “We need to look at how we can best play our whole hand, including petroleum, gas, coal and wind.”
Representative Tim Stubson said he would like to see the task force focus on the “low-hanging fruit” that could be taken care of in the upcoming session. He said one of those is the regulatory environment regarding wind energy development.
“The regulatory environment is made up of two issues – changes to the industrial siting act and minimum standards put in place for counties and how industrial siting requirements relate to the counties that have zoning,” said Stubson.
He also mentioned decommissioning as a priority. “We need something to ensure we won’t be looking at rusting towers across the state.”
“The other thing that’s doable, although it’s not a priority, is the severance of wind rights, and defining what a wind right is,” noted Stubson.
“Transmission should be at the top of our priorities,” said Senator Marty Martin. “Without that we lack a reason to develop wind power.”
Chairman Anderson added that he thinks socioeconomic information will be important, and that he’d like to see more research in that area.
Representative Ronny Anderson suggested a matrix of suggestions for counties to consider before allowing wind development, saying it could give minimum regulations and be helpful to county commissioners.
Representative Seth Carson said he thinks minimum standards, which would be a “building code” of sorts, also need to be developed for public safety and welfare. “This should be something specific to the new industry in Wyoming, without changing thresholds for other industries,” he said.
“Defining property ownership is important for us to set up a good framework for the beneficial use of this renewable resource,” said Representative Jeb Steward. “We need to still be able to realize wind resource development in 10 or 20 years, and we don’t want those opportunities to leave the state for future generations.”
Carson proposed that wind energy may be able to assist the other energy-based industries in Wyoming. “How can the wind industry help our other industries with regard to cap and trade and carbon policies?” he asked. “I think it could have a huge role in helping offset that.”
The task force discussed the concept of a Wind Energy Commission, but the topic was tabled pending further research and discussion. Representative Rodney Anderson said he’s opposed to a new commission. “We’re trying to shrink state government, not grow it, and maybe we could do another task force or select committee.”
The task force thinks the state lands lease procedure is working, and they plan to make an endorsement of it.
Concerning sage grouse, which have been one of the biggest uncertainties in development, Chairman Anderson said, “We need to send a message that we’ll do something about this bird that is positive. We need to consider some demonstration of support for that.”
He recommended a joint resolution between the Wyoming House and Senate that supports the core area concept, “in attempt to show unanimity within the government of Wyoming,” he said.
“The sage chicken is a good thing, because it will make us collaborate and talk and realize the risks and benefits of wind development,” continued Anderson. “We’re in the game of risk management here.”
Carson explained the entire issue of wind energy planning as creating “an open door with a storm door on it.”
“We want to let in what we want,” he stated. “We need to create a direction of where we’re going to go over the next three or four years so there’s a pathway in the direction of where we’re leaning with policy. That will be the most important thing coming out of our report, even if there’s zero legislation.”
“If you can get half of those ideas done, we’re a long way down the road,” said Aaron Clark, Energy Infrastructure Advisor to Gov. Freudenthal, in response the task force’s discussion.
In addition to hearing reports and reviewing draft bills, the task force’s next meeting will focus on taxation of wind energy developments. Because the task force does not have the ability to sponsor legislation, individual task force members will create and bring forward draft bills for the committee to consider.