Rep. Clark Stith talks on the House floor about House Bill 3 on Tuesday. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

House Divided On Authority To Assess Private Wind And Solar Farms: State Or Counties

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

After a lively discussion, the Wyoming House of Representatives passed the first reading of a bill that will have the state resume property tax assessments of wind and solar farms not regulated by the Wyoming Public Service Commission. 

For the past decade, the Wyoming Department of Revenue has been performing the valuation of these wind and solar farms, or independent power producers (IPP). 

Counties have become concerned with how the assessments were being done when actual tax revenues were coming in much lower than what developers projected during their industrial siting processes.

The Wyoming County Assessors Association wanted to keep valuation authority with individual counties. 

Proponents of House Bill 3 argued that having counties do these assessments creates inconsistency in the valuations, which will discourage economic across the state. 



Wanted Clarification

Many large industrial facilities operating entirely within one county, such as gas refineries, are assessed on the local level, while the state assesses industries that cross county lines, such as pipelines and airlines. 

Wind farms that are owned by public utilities and overseen by the Wyoming Public Service Commission have been assessed by the state. For the past decade, it also had been valuing independent wind farms. 

A couple of years ago, the Department of Revenue noticed that Wyoming statutes did not clearly identify the state as the assessing authority for IPPs and asked for clarification. 

House Bill 3 clarifies that the state would handle these assessments. 

It came to the House floor Tuesday after passing the House Minerals Committee on Monday. 


Rep. Cody Wylie talks on the House floor about House Bill 3 on Tuesday. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Projections Vs. Reality

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, said that in Sweetwater County, a solar farm developer had projected the project would deliver $17 million in property taxes annually. 

The state’s assessment, however, came in at $4 million. 

Speaking a couple weeks ago, Converse County Assessor Dixie Huxtable told Cowboy State Daily these wide differences in projections and assessments are problematic because the local approval process considers those high projections from developers, then realize far less. 

Rep. Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs, said Tuesday on the House floor that there is a difference between how property tax estimates are done on a proposed project and actual assessment on an operational one. 

Rep. Christopher Knapp, R- Gillette, said that since the state and counties use the same methodology in their evaluations, the difference between projections and valuations should be the same. 

So, he argued, the point is moot. 

Transparency

Scrutinizing the state’s assessment methodology had been difficult because of confidentiality regulations, which was one of the reasons the Assessors Association wanted to keep assessment of IPPs with counties. 

By having the authority lie with the state, counties were left out of the assessment process. 

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said that’s not accurate. 

HB 3 contains transparency clauses, he explained, that allows county assessors to request information on how assessments of IPPs are done. Only the taxpayer can appeal a state assessment, but counties would have access to the methodology used in assessments. 

“While they may not have a right of appeal … they do have a right to access through the process,” Olsen said. 

Olsen also pointed out that in the state’s history, there has only been one appeal by an IPP, which he said shows the state does fair assessments. 


Rep. Lloyd Larsen argues that state law offers “no ambiguity” on assessments for IPPs. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

No Ambiguity

Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, argued on the House floor that Wyoming law clearly states that counties have a right to do assessments of these types of industrial facilities.

“There is no ambiguity,” Larsen said. 

Natural gas processors, which are valued at the county level, are doing the same thing as independent power producers — producing a commodity that they wholesale, he said.

Larsen said that contrary to arguments that the counties were being burdened with the assessment task, they were actually having that right taken away. 

Third-Party Firm

Proponents of House Bill 3 argued that counties were hiring an outside firm to handle assessments of the IPPs. The Department of Revenue performs its assessments in-house, so that would save counties the extra expense. 

The bill’s opponents, however, argued that county-level evaluations would be higher, which would pay the costs of the third-party consultants. They also argued that department salaries are paid with public money, so Wyoming residents were paying for the services either way. 

One More Year

A similar bill failed in the last legislative session, so the department had handed the task of assessments over to the county level this year. 

The counties were in the process of hiring consultants and had already incurred expenses for that purpose. 

The House adopted an amendment to delay the state taking back assessments until next year so as not to disrupt the process the counties had already started. 

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